West Africa - SahelReport

To be able to visit all prisoners without exception

(BRUSSELS2 in Bamako) For the International Committee of the Red Cross, the conflict in Mali did not start on January 11, the date of the French intervention, but a year earlier. For Alexandre Faite, his delegate in the Malian capital, “ Since the start of the conflict, there has been good access to all persons deprived of their liberty ". At least on the side of the Malian authorities. They “quickly realized what they could get out of it in terms of supervising the prison authorities, with the added confidentiality aspect. »

Not all armed groups

On the rebel side, the organization was thus able to have access to prisoners held by the MNLA, in its two 'options' (with the rebels and against the rebels). The Malian soldiers caught in the offensive by the MNLA were released fairly quickly, well before Operation Serval. But this opening did not extend to other armed movements. The ICRC “has contact with everyone. And we raised the issue of protection with everyone with MUJAO and Benmokhtar's lieutenants in particular. Corn " despite repeated attempts to see the detainees, we have not been able to obtain visitation rights”. The movements were apparently playing cat and mouse. " It was once yes, once no. » In the end, it was no. The same goes for access to hostages. “ It’s not for lack of trying.”

Good cooperation with the French

After starting Serval, " we were able to gain fairly quick access to people arrested and detained by the Malian gendarmerie ". Cooperation with the French army is good. Every week a situation update is made between the “Legad” (legal advisor) of the Serval force and the ICRC “protection” coordinator. Because if the French army does not retain prisoners, it hands them over to the Malians. An agreement was concluded between French and Malians, called “non-refoulement”. That is to say, respect for the “relevant” rules of international law. « We then arrange to be present during the handover to the Malian authorities.”

Global visit agreement

But one of his successes is very recent. After long discussions, including at the highest level of government (President of the Republic, Prime Minister), a comprehensive visit agreement was able to be negotiated with the Malian authorities. These are the ones who take in a good part of the prisoners taken in the north, jihadists and others, detained in particular in the central prison of Bamako.

This agreement has an interest: it recognizes the right of the ICRC "to visit any person wherever they are and at whatever level of proceedings ". An authority cannot thus pretext a judicial investigation in progress or, on the contrary, the absence of a judicial investigation to refuse access rights. It should thus allow access to people who may still be detained/held in “communicado”. This is a subject sensitive “especially when you want to interview people” for information ».

ICRC procedures

The ICRC's first step is in fact based on two essential procedures. First, registration. Each prisoner is identified in an electronic database. " It is important " note A. Done. “A registered inmate rarely disappears. This is a principle that we have seen all over the world. » The procedure is normally done only by ICRC expatriates. Which requires having access to the region concerned. Recordings were thus made in Gao, Mopti, Timbuktu and Bamako and very recently in Kidal, for “jihadist” prisoners held by the MNLA (in its “allies of the French” version). Even if the means may be rudimentary. “ The last time, it was done on the plane. About 300 prisoners would have been registered in this way.

The second step is more concrete. This is a “ in-depth interview, without witnesses or listening ". The prisoner retraces his journey, how he was treated (food, accommodation, attitude of the guards, etc.). Everything is archived and a confidential report submitted to the authorities. Reports were thus given to the MNLA and to the Malians but not to the French.

Child soldiers

The ICRC confirms the presence of child soldiers. At the time of armed groups, “ there were (already) very young weapon bearers ". Of course there is " always a difficulty in determining the age ". But among the prisoners, “there were clearly identified minors ". UNICEF took care of them.

NB: In 2012, the ICRC carried out 41 prison visits for the benefit of 3 detainees, of whom 500 were followed individually and facilitated the transfer of 242 released detainees.

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).