Violence Against Civilians in Central Mali in 2019

A woman and her child walk through the village Ogossagou after an attack in March 2019 that killed over 150 civilians A woman and her child walk through the village Ogossagou after an attack in March 2019 that killed over 150 civilians © UNICEF/Keita

 This article is a brief presentation of the report “‘How Much More Blood Must Be Spilled?’: Atrocities Against Civilians in Central Mali, 2019” released by Human Rights Watch in February 2020

In February 2020, Human Rights Watch, or HRW, published a report entitled “How Much More Blood Must Be Spilled?” which focused on atrocities committed against civilians in Central Mali during  2019. The report focused on attacks allegedly caused by communal violence and armed Islamist groups. Communal violence refers to attacks against specific ethnic communities by other ethnic groups. To conduct the research necessary to compile this report, HRW conducted 147 interviews by phone and undertook four research trips to Bamako, Mopti, and Sévaré. 

The conflict in Mali has been escalating since 2012, when separatist ethnic armed groups took over northern areas of Mali. In 2015, Islamist armed groups began spreading from those regions into Central Mali, which is mostly inhabited by the Peuhl, the Bambara, the Bozo, the Dogon, and the Tellem communities. The report named the Mopti region of central Mali as “epicenter” of the violence. 

The HRW found that at least 340 civilians were killed in acts of communal violence such as large-scale massacres, attacks on villages, and individual killings. Dozens of those killed were children. The report stated that 284 deaths occurred during attacks against Peuhl communities by perpetrators allegedly belonging to Dogon groups. According to witnesses, these attacks were “well-organized.” However, the report also documented eight attacks, in which 56 Dogon and Tellem civilians were killed by Peuhl civil defense groups or armed Peuhl men; on 31 July at least eight Dogon people were killed during one attack. In addition to communal violence, the HRW also recorded at least 116 civilian deaths, most of whom were Dogon or Tellem, through attacks allegedly conducted by Islamist groups. These groups include the Katibat Macina, the Katibata Serma, Ansaroul Islam, and the Islamic State of the Gerater Sahara. According to HRW, in addition to reported massacres, such as one in June 2019 in Yoro and Gangafani II in which  38 civilians were killed, Islmaist groups have carried out executions and abductions, as well as planted improvised explosive devices on roadways.

However, the HRW has found that only in very few instances have those responsible for these civilian deaths been prosecuted. Officials from Mali stated that insufficient resources and the precarious security situation caused difficulties with the numerous allegations in their judicial system. HRW recommends that the Malian judiciary increase resources to support Malian judges and launch a public information campaign to explain the functioning of the judicial system. The nongovernmental organization also calls for international actors to exercise pressure on the Malian government to accelerate its investigations of communal violence.  


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Author: Cecilia D’Arville

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