Armed groups are killing, maiming and terrorizing communities throughout central Mali with impunity, Human Rights Watch said in a report on Monday.
The rights watchdog said many villagers have been burned alive “while others were blown up by explosive devices”.
It urged the Malian authorities to urgently open an investigation and prosecute those responsible.
The report is based on witness accounts from dozens of attacks by armed groups in 2019, during which at least 456 civilians were reportedly killed, and hundreds wounded, according to the rights watchdog.
“Armed groups are killing, maiming and terrorizing communities throughout central Mali with no apparent fear of being held to account,” said Corinne Dufka, West Africa director at Human Rights Watch and author of the report.
“The human toll in shattered lives is mounting as the deadly cycles of violence and revenge continue.
“The Malian government’s failure to punish armed groups on all sides is emboldening them to commit further atrocities.
“The government, with the help of its international partners, needs to do much more to prosecute those responsible for crimes and dismantle abusive armed groups,” Dufka said.
Tensions erupted in Mali in 2012 following a failed coup and a Tuareg rebellion that ultimately allowed al-Qaeda-linked militant groups to take over the northern half of the country.
In 2015, a peace deal was signed between the government and some insurgent groups.
Political and community disputes continue to fuel tensions in northern Mali, thus undermining the implementation of the peace agreement.
The UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) said recently that the Sahel region was in the midst of a devastating surge in terrorist attacks against civilian and military targets.
Terrorist attacks have increased fivefold in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger since 2016, with over 4,000 deaths reported in 2019 compared to roughly 770 in 2016, according to the UN.