Malian army and fighters accused of executing 500 people

The carnage reportedly occurred during an anti-jihadist operation in Moura in central Mali. The UN on Friday accused the Malian army and “foreign” fighters of having executed in March 2022 at least 500 people. The report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is damning and constitutes the most accusatory document produced against the Malian forces often implicated in the past.

The High Commissioner “has reasonable grounds to believe” that at least 500 people, including some 20 women and seven children, were “executed by the Malian Armed Forces and foreign military personnel” between March 27 and 31 2022 in this locality of a few thousand inhabitants, says the text. It is based on an investigation by the Human Rights Division of the Blue Helmets mission in Mali since 2013 (Minusma), 157 individual interviews and 11 group interviews.

Acts of torture and rape

The High Commission also has “reasonable grounds to believe that 58 women and girls were victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence”. It reports acts of torture on arrested persons. These actions could constitute war crimes and, “depending on the circumstances”, crimes against humanity, said in a statement Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The report does not identify “outsiders”. But he recalls the official Malian declarations on the assistance of Russian “instructors” in the fight against the jihadists and the remarks attributed to the head of Russian diplomacy Sergei Lavrov on the presence in Mali of the private Russian security company Wagner. The UN cites testimonies describing these foreigners as white men in fatigues speaking an “unknown” language and who “supervised” the operations.

Shooting into the crowd “indiscriminately”

The report recounts the arrival on March 27 in the late morning of Malian soldiers and their allies equipped with five helicopters when a cattle fair attracted thousands of civilians who came to stock up on supplies in anticipation of Ramadan. Moura is reputed to be a stronghold of the Katiba Macina affiliated with the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM), itself affiliated with Al-Qaeda. About thirty members of the Katiba Macina would have mingled with the showmen and civilians.

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A helicopter and men on the ground would have opened fire “indiscriminately” towards the market, jihadists would have responded. Thirty people, including a dozen jihadists, were killed. The Malian army reportedly took control of the premises and arrested around 3,000 people, spread over four locations. She would have continued to comb the locality the following days. Malian soldiers and their allies “would have selected several hundred people who were summarily executed for at least four days”, the report said. The men to be executed would have been chosen on signs making them suspect, such as having a long beard.

A military justice investigation

The victims were reportedly buried in mass graves. Malian military justice announced in April 2022 an investigation. The junta rejects accusations of abuses against the armed forces and ensures that rights are respected. In 2022, it broke the military alliance with France and turned to Russia. She denies being linked to Wagner’s mercenaries whose actions have been decried in various countries.

The report comes at a delicate time in relations – constantly deteriorating – between the junta and the Minusma whose mandate expires in June. The Malian authorities criticize the action of Minusma on rights and in 2023 expelled the head of the human rights division.

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