File Photo: Two Islamist policemen patrol the streets of Gao in July 2012, during Islamists brief period of control in northern Mali. AFP
Tens of thousands of villagers from the Menaka and Gao regions have fled their homes after losing their livestock and belongings in attacks since March, the rights group said in a report.
The abuses have largely targeted the Daoussahak people, a Tuareg tribe, according to the watchdog.
It said large swathes of Malian territory have come under the control of groups affiliated with the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS).
"Islamist armed groups in northeast Mali have carried out terrifying and seemingly coordinated attacks on villages, massacring civilians, looting homes, and destroying property," Jehanne Henry, HRW's senior Africa adviser, said in the report.
"The Malian government needs to do more to protect villagers at particular risk of attack and provide them greater assistance."
The assertion contradicts claims by Mali's ruling junta, which seized power in 2020, that it has turned a corner in the fight against the insurgency that has wracked the country since 2012 -- and put jihadist groups on the run in recent months.
The rights watchdog described attacks in 13 locations, all with similar modus operandi.
In Inkalafane, in the Menaka region, "a large group of armed men arrived in an armed vehicle and riding motorcycles" on March 28. They killed 35 civilians, the report said, citing a 55-year-old shepherd who escaped the attack.
The security situation in the Menaka and Gao regions has deteriorated considerably since March.
HRW noted that the outbreak of violence eight months ago coincided with the withdrawal of French troops from Mali.
The UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA, "should continue to ramp up its patrolling, deterrence flights, and interactions with the affected communities", the report said.
MINUSMA has previously complained that the junta is limiting its operations.