Detention: Law of

What Happens to Captured Persons in Mali?

By Robert Chesney
Wednesday, May 1, 2013, 6:00 PM

What is happening in Mali to people who are captured rather than killed by French, Chadian, or Malian forces?  I asked this in February, but so far as I know the question remains unanswered in the public record.

Part of the answer may be that there just aren’t many captures.  But we know that there are some.  Why, consider the strange case of Gilles Le Guen (aka Abdel Jelil), a Frenchman from Nantes who moved to Mali from Morocco in 2011 and then became somewhat well-known as an arms-bearing participant in the Islamist insurgency that briefly occupied Timbuktu.  French forces captured him this past weekend.   According to the BBC, France’s Defence Minister has stated that Le Guen most likely will be “handed over to the Malian authorities and ‘probably expelled to France,’” where investigators are working to develop criminal charges.

I think it is safe to infer from this episode that France is turning over all captured persons to Malian authorities; if they do so with a French citizen, after all, surely they do so with other persons.  But what is Mali doing with these people if they aren’t French citizens?  In the case of other foreign fighters, I suspect there might be a fair amount of rendition (not extradition, but rendition) taking place, probably with assistance from France or the US.  And in the case of Malian fighters, or anyone else the Malians keep?  Who knows.  I suspect that the formal answer is: criminal prosecution.  But are there any trials taking place?  If so, what charges are in issue, and what standards of proof used?  It is not hard to imagine that the trappings of criminal justice have been invoked, while the substance is closer to preventive detention.

And I’ve been speaking only of the authorities of the Malian government proper.  But there is another governmental force of sorts in Mali: the Tuareg rebels of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, who early on had sided with the AQIM-linked extremists but then turned on them in the face of the French intervention.  The Tuareg’s exercise de facto control in much of the north, and are holding prisoners in a limbo-like status.  According to this al Jazeera report on one group of prisoners:

He said the Tuaregs don't have a proper judicial system to put the detainees on trial. They also do not have enough means to keep sheltering and feeding the former fighters.

Yet they cannot simply release the men, concerned that some of them have dangerous plans to pursue. The MNLA cannot and does not want to hand the prisoners to the Malian authorities.

The French interrogated the men one by one in the facility a few weeks ago. But they don't seem to be interested in having any inmate extradited to Paris for trial, Mohamed said.

The accusations against the prisoners are very broad in nature, ranging from carrying weapons and fighting to establishing Islamic law.

None of them seem to have been personally caught in an act of killing. Half a dozen or so seem to be underage.