Amnesty: Mali holding children as adults
Bamako - Children accused of belonging to armed militias in Mali and participating in the country's ongoing unrest are languishing in jails and being held alongside adults, an international human rights group charged.
In a brief report released on Thursday, Amnesty International said that holding children with adults, often without access to lawyers or their families, violates international law.
Researchers who visited West African country in June interviewed seven detainees whom they suspect are minors. The group said they have long been concerned that children recruited by militant groups in Mali are not being offered opportunities for rehabilitation and are being held along with adults.
"Children have suffered throughout this conflict," said Gaetan Mootoo, Amnesty's researcher for West Africa. "A number of them as young as 16 have been recruited as child soldiers and those accused of being members of armed groups are being detained alongside adults without access to family or legal counsel."
Northern Mali fell under the control of armed separatists and then al-Qaeda-linked extremists following a military coup in 2012. A French-led intervention last year scattered the extremists, but some continue to sow violence across the north.
Amnesty has called on Malian troops and French forces, who are still participating in operations in Mali, to verify the ages of anyone they detain. It has also asked the Malian government to ensure no minors are being held.
Amnesty said the Ministry of Justice said it would look into the allegations. After the researchers' visit, four minors were released, but Amnesty said more are still being held.
The report also criticised the conditions for all detainees and documented the deaths of two inmates, whom Amnesty said did not receive proper medical care.
Amnesty said the Ministry of Justice acknowledged that detention conditions are "sub-human" but said that a new prison is in the works.