EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Tuesday strongly condemned the alleged execution by stoning of an unmarried couple by radical Islamists in northern Mali and urged the African nation's interim government to take immediate steps to end the inhuman practice.
In a statement issued by her office, Ashton expressed her deep concern about the human rights situation in northern Mali. Strongly condemning the stoning incident, EU's top diplomat stressed on the immediate need to "put an end to such barbarism and to respect fundamental, universally-recognized human rights."
Ashton also reiterated the European Union's firm "opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances and to the execution by stoning as a particularly cruel and inhuman form of punishment."
The EU response came a day after media reports indicated that a couple who had sex outside marriage has been stoned to death in northern Mali in what is believed to the first instance of the strict Islamic law, or the Sharia, being enforced in the region after it was overrun by Islamist rebels earlier this year.
The brutal incident reportedly took place during the weekend in the town of Aguelhok. According to witnesses, Islamists buried the couple up to their necks before stoning them to death in front of some 200 people.
Mali had witnessed a coup in March, triggered by dissatisfaction among a large section of the military over the government's failure to address demands for better supplies and arms to tackle the Tuareg uprising in the North.
The coup leaders later agreed to return power to a civilian interim government led by President Dioncounda Traore, following a deal with ECOWAS in exchange for lifting sanctions against the military junta.
Nevertheless, Mali's Tuareg rebels, backed by Ansar Dine Islamist militants trying to impose Islamic law across the whole of the West African State, captured a large portion of northern Mali late March and declared independence.
However, most of the international community rejected the rebel independence declaration, and urged all sides involved to engage in talks to resolve the issue. It is estimated that the conflict has forced more than 320,000 people to flee northern Mali.
Fighters from the Ansar Dine group have since destroyed several sacred mausoleums in the historical city of Timbuktu, including those that were part of a World Heritage site. The rebels have also threatened to destroy every mausoleum in the city, pointing out that building on graves is taboo in Islam.
The United Nations Security Council has called for identifying and imposing sanctions as well as other punitive measures on fighters of the al-Qaeda-linked Islamist group over the destruction of the mausoleums. Also, International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has warned that destruction of the mausoleums constitutes a "war crime," which her office has authority to probe.
by RTT Staff Writer
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