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Amnesty says Mali Continues to Jail Former Child Soldiers

FILE - Young fighters display their Quranic studies notes for a journalist as their Islamist commanders look on, in Douentza, Mali.

Human rights activists say Mali's government continues to jail children accused of having been members of the armed rebel and extremist groups, and that the government is committing human rights abuses in the north.

Amnesty International says some ex-combatants being held in adult prisons in Bamako are as young as 16.

Amnesty says its researchers visited some of the children and found they do not have access to lawyers or family visits. One boy has not been allowed outside for exercise or to see his family since he was locked up in late 2013.

Amnesty's Mali director, Saloum Traore, says the detention of these children violates Mali's international human rights obligations and agreements between the government and the United Nations.

“They are victims, and should not be considered as perpetrators. Instead of being detained they should get psychological help and be reintegrated into their communities," said Traore.

In March 2012 a group of separatist rebels and Islamist militants took control of much of Mali’s North. Scores of children were recruited into the groups as child soldiers.

Amnesty says the detention of children accused of having been part of the armed groups is but one of a long list of human rights violations committed in the north since the start of 2012.

The violence did not stop once French and African troops retook the north in early 2013.

The Bamako government says it has been difficult to access some areas in the north to investigate reports of abuses and to identify those responsible.

During a recent two-week visit to Mali, the researchers found evidence of deaths in custody and continuing violence perpetrated against civilians by rebel groups such as National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad.

Amnesty says it has documented more than 500 cases of violence in the north since the conflict started in January 2012.

Despite elections last year, the central government remains weak and unstable. In many parts of the north, there is no functioning government, schools remain closed and courts are not functioning.