U.N. condemns Mali rights abuses, to step up monitoring

GENEVA Thu Mar 21, 2013 3:42pm EDT

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations condemned human rights crimes committed in northern Mali by "rebels, terrorist groups and other organized transnational crime networks" and agreed to appoint an independent monitor for the West African country.

The 47-member U.N. Human Rights Council adopted a resolution brought by Gabon on behalf of African states without a vote on Thursday that also called for free and transparent elections in Mali, which is fighting an Islamist insurgency in the north.

Activists said the U.N. resolution failed to address reports of abuses by government forces in Mali, where French troops have been in action since January 11 to prevent the north from becoming a launchpad for Islamist militant attacks in Africa and beyond.

"While we welcome this resolution, the Council's failure to clearly condemn serious violations recently committed by members of the Malian army is a disservice to the Malian people," Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

"If Mali is to turn a new page, the new U.N. expert and U.N. rights monitors will have to investigate abuses by all sides and hold the Malian authorities accountable for their part," the New York-based human rights group said.

Ireland's ambassador Gerard Corr, speaking for the European Union (EU), voiced concern at what he called "the proliferation of testimonies of heinous crimes committed by Malian soldiers" and urged authorities there to "prevent such excesses".

The French-led offensive in Mali has pushed Islamists out of northern towns and remote mountain bases, but militants have hit back with several suicide bombings in newly freed towns.

Mali's ambassador Sidiki Lamine Sow said his country has been shaken by violence and a "climate of terror", which has driven hundreds of thousands of people from their homes, created a humanitarian crisis and threatens regional stability.

"This is the place to note the determination of Mali's highest authorities to fight against impunity in all its forms," Sow told the Geneva forum.

"Armed groups and drug traffickers responsible for the unacceptable aggression in Mali have committed grave violations, including rape, pillaging, summary executions, torture and cruel and degrading treatment, hostage-taking, and slave practices," he said.

The U.N. resolution called on Mali's government to guarantee freedom of expression and to "organize free, transparent elections as soon as possible with a view to creating conditions conducive to a return to constitutional order, to a lasting and inclusive reconciliation".

It condemned "the excesses and abuses committed in the Republic of Mali, particularly in the north of the country, by, among others, the rebels, terrorist groups and other organized transnational crime networks".

Abuses included violence against women and children, summary executions, hostage-taking, pillaging, destruction of cultural and religious sites, and recruitment of child soldiers, it said.

Al Qaeda's wing in north Africa said it had beheaded a French hostage in retaliation for France's intervention in Mali, Mauritania's ANI news agency reported on Tuesday, citing a spokesman for the group.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, editing by Paul Casciato)

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