When Will There be Justice for Mali Massacre?

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 A woman walks with her daughter past the remains of homes that were destroyed during the March 23, 2019 attack on Ogossagou village by armed Dogon men in which over 150 civilians were killed. 

© 2019 UNICEF/Keita

The worst atrocity in Mali’s recent history occurred two years ago, on March 23, when over 150 civilians were massacred in Ogossagou village. Dozens of survivors described to Human Rights Watch how heavily armed ethnic Dogon men attacked the village in central Mali, accusing ethnic Peuhl residents of supporting armed Islamist groups.

The attackers executed, mutilated, and burned villagers cowering in their homes or as they fled the violence. A 32-year-old mother described her 5-year-old son being ripped from her arms and murdered. Another mother watched as her sons, ages 12 and 17, were gunned down.

The government opened an investigation and made a few low-level arrests. However, the commander of the Dogon self-defense group, Youssouf Toloba, whose militia was credibly implicated in the killings, has not even been questioned. Less than a year later, another 35 civilians were murdered in the same village, allegedly by the same militia.

Last November, the prosecutor in charge of investigations into both cases said the judicial investigations were “continuing their normal course despite the constraints linked to insecurity.” Yet, many survivors told us they do not understand why the many suspects they identified as having carried out the killings in Ogossagou have yet to be taken into custody.

The conflict in Mali since 2012 has been punctuated by dozens of atrocities by all sides – armed Islamists, ethnic militias formed to combat them, and the government security forces. Hundreds of civilians have been summarily killed. Next to none of these atrocities have been investigated, much less perpetrators brought to book.

On March 15, a court in Bamako, the capital, dismissed the case against army officer Amadou Haya Sanogo and 16 co-defendants for the 2012 killing of 21 elite soldiers in custody, citing the 2019 Law of National Understanding, which provides amnesty to perpetrators on a discretionary basis. The ruling left survivors of grave abuses wondering if there can be any justice for those they have lost.

The lack of justice not just for Ogossagou but for the cascade of other major crimes by all sides has contributed to a cycle of violence and revenge in Mali. As one elder from a village near Ogossagou said, “People from all armed groups have learned they can kill, maim, burn, and destroy without consequence. When will Mali learn that it is impunity driving the violence in Mali more than anything else?”