Human Rights Watch says Mali's government is failing to protect civilians in its northern and central regions from Islamic extremists who killed dozens of people last year while pressuring families to give up their children to jihad.

The group's new report Wednesday describes how militants have occupied villages, attacked U.N. peacekeepers and tried to impose a strict interpretation of Sharia law barring celebrations including marriages and baptisms.

The group also denounces rising levels of banditry, a phenomenon victims say is fueled by the slow implementation of a 2015 peace accord.

Security Minister Salif Traore declines to respond to the report's specifics but says he is well aware of security challenges in Mali and throughout the Sahel region.

The U.N. Security Council is expected to be briefed on Mali on Wednesday.