(Nairobi) – Military officers responsible for a coup in Mali should restore basic human rights protections, ensure the humane treatment of everyone in custody, and protect the lives and property of all Malians, Human Rights Watch said today. The security of the ethnic Tuareg, Arab populations, and other minorities is of particular concern.
On March 21, 2012, young military officers protesting the government’s handling of a Tuareg-led rebellion staged a coup against President Amadou Toumani Touré. After taking over the state television and radio station, a spokesman for the officers announced the suspension of the constitution and “all institutions,” as well as the closure of all borders and the main airport in the capital, Bamako, and imposed a nationwide curfew. Since the outbreak of armed conflict in northern Mali in mid-January 2012, some 200,000 Malians have fled their homes, most to neighboring Algeria, Burkina Faso, and Niger.
“The political and social upheaval created by the coup must not lead to a vacuum in the protection of basic rights,” said Corinne Dufka, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The military officers who took over Mali’s government must not only maintain discipline within the security forces, but should also ensure that the human rights of all Malians are respected.”
The coup leaders of the self-proclaimed National Committee for the Reestablishment of Democracy and the Restoration of the State (CNRDR) said they had overthrown the government because of the inadequate support for the army in its military operations against the rebellion by the separatist Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), which seeks autonomy for the north they call Azawad. Since the outbreak of fighting, the Malian army has lost several major military bases, most recently the strategic base of Amachach, near Tessalit. On January 24, the rebels overran the Aguelhoc military base, allegedly summarily executing at least 70 Malian soldiers.
Local and international media reported that the coup leaders, reportedly headed by Capt. Amadou Sanogo,had detained at least two government ministers – the foreign affairs minister,Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga, and the territorial administration and local authorities minister, Kafougouna Koné – as well as several loyalist military officers. There were also reports of looting of the presidential palace, shops, and gas stations in Bamako. As a result of soldiers firing in the air, numerous civilians are reported to have been shot by stray bullets. During a speech on national television, Capt. Sanogo called for calm and denounced all looting.
Human Rights Watch is concerned that the unrest provoked by the coup could result in attacks against minority populations, notably the Tuareg and Arab ethnic groups, and called on the coup leaders to ensure that the rights and safety of all Malians are respected. In early February, civilians carried out scores of reprisal attacks against the homes and businesses of Tuaregs in Bamako, Kati, Sikasso, Koulikoro and Gao. The attacks provoked widespread panic and the flight of tens of thousands of Tuaregs from Mali.
In a statement read on state television on the morning of March 22, coup leaders said: “We promise to hand power back to a democratically elected president as soon as the country is reunified and its integrity is no longer threatened.” Presidential elections had been scheduled for April 29. President Touré has served two, five-year terms.
Human Rights Watch called on the coup leaders to give a specific timeline for the imminent return to democratic rule, respecting the fundamental right of Malians to elect their leaders.