GENEVA: The UN's human rights body on Tuesday accused Malian soldiers of carrying out retaliatory attacks that appeared to target specific ethnic groups, and demanded that Mali investigate and bring the perpetrators to justice.
The preliminary findings of a UN mission to Mali last month showed "that the recent military intervention in the north of Mali was followed by a serious escalation of retaliatory violence by government soldiers who appear to be targeting members of the Peuhl, Tuareg and Arab ethnic groups," UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kyung-wha Kang said.
The mission was ordered by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay to substantiate reports of serious human rights violations in the northern territories recovered from Islamist rebels following a French-led intervention that began in January.
The groups that appear to be targeted "are perceived to be supportive of the armed groups" or Islamists who grabbed the vast north of Mali last April, Kang told diplomats at the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
The "situation has been exacerbated by the propagation of inflammatory messages, including through the media, stigmatising members of these communities, thousands of whom have reportedly fled out of fear of reprisal by the Malian army," Kang said.
"Those who remain in the country are afraid of being targeted not for what they have done, but for who they are," she added.
Kang urged "Malian authorities to protect the communities at risk and to ensure that their troops act in accordance with human rights law and international humanitarian law."
"Allegations of involvement of the elements of the Malian army in acts of reprisals against civilians should be investigated and those responsible should be brought to justice," she said.
Malian Justice Minister Malick Coulibaly responded by saying that any retaliatory attacks "can only be isolated acts for which the perpetrators will be tried and punished."