HRW says Mali army, Wagner mercenaries executed civilians

Human Rights Watch on Monday accused the Malian armed forces and “foreign” fighters, suspected to be from the Russian mercenary Wagner group, of “executing” dozens of civilians during security operations.

According to HRW, the reported abuses have taken place since late 2022 “during military operations in response to the presence of Islamist armed groups” in various towns in central Mali.

The international rights group also condemned incidents of detainee torture, as well as the destruction and looting of civilian property.

“Malian armed forces and foreign fighters apparently from the Russia-linked Wagner Group have summarily executed and forcibly disappeared several dozen civilians in Mali’s central region,” HRW said.

As the decade-old MINUSMA mission in Mali is set to withdraw from the West African country by the end of the year, the NGO is calling on the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to exert pressure for an end to abuses and hold the Malian authorities accountable.

Since 2012, Mali, which is currently under military junta rule, has been grappling with an insurgency that has extended to Burkina Faso and Niger, resulting in the deaths and displacement of thousands of people.

The recent HRW report comes as a follow-up to one published earlier this month, condemning the extensive killing, rape, and looting that occurred in northeast Mali this year.

Human Rights Watch said conducted telephone interviews with 40 individuals, which included 20 witnesses of abuses, three family members of victims, two community leaders, and five Malian civil society activists for its latest report.

The witnesses reported the involvement of armed foreigners, describing them as “white”, “Russian” or “belonging to Wagner.”

One witness recounted that a significant number of “white” foreign fighters in uniform were involved in a brutal assault on the village of Seguela on February 3. The attack led to beatings, looting, and the subsequent arrest of 17 men, with eight bodies discovered at the scene later on.

In a separate incident, a 28-year-old witness reported that military helicopters flew at a low altitude and opened fire on the village of Ouenkoro in March.

Mali Responds

In response to the HRW report, the Malian government stated that it was not aware of any human rights violations, but added that the public prosecutor has initiated a judicial investigation specifically focused on war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Since assuming power in 2020, the ruling junta in Bamako has forged political and military alliances with Russia while severing ties with their longstanding ally, France.

In May, the UN leveled accusations against the Malian army and foreign fighters, alleging that they were responsible for the murder of 500 people during a security operation.

However, the junta denied these allegations.

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