Malian forces backed by foreign military are believed to have killed at least 500 people over several days in a village last year, the UN said on Friday, significantly raising the death toll from what was once considered the worst atrocity in the country. Mali’s decade of fighting extremist groups.
The new report by the UN Human Rights Office details the violence that took place in the village of Moura, in central Mali, over five days, and increases the previous death toll of 300 reported by Human Rights Watch.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk called the findings “extremely disturbing”.
“Summary executions, rape and torture during armed conflict constitute war crimes and may, depending on the circumstances, constitute crimes against humanity,” Turk said.
Malian officials said their operation in March neutralized extremists and prevented UN investigators from visiting the village. UN investigators analyzed satellite imagery, as well as speaking with victims and witnesses, the report said.
MILITARY GOVERNMENT OF MALI SETS THE DATE OF THE CONSTITUTIONAL REFERENDUM OF JUNE 18
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France and others alleged that Malian forces in Moura were aided by Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group. In Friday’s report, investigators also cited similar evidence of foreign involvement.
“Witnesses reported seeing ‘armed white men’ who spoke an unknown language operating alongside Malian forces and at times appearing to supervise operations,” the UN Human Rights Office said. “According to witnesses, Malian troops entered and left Moura daily, but foreign personnel remained during the operation.”
Despite nine years of help from the French military and a large UN peacekeeping mission, Mali has failed to contain violence from extremist Islamist groups. In August 2020, an army colonel overthrew the country’s democratically elected president, further destabilizing the West African nation.
Colonel Assimi Goita became the country’s leader after mounting a second coup nine months later, and relations between his government and France and the United Nations deteriorated sharply in the following months. France eventually moved all its troops in Mali to neighboring Niger, and the Malian government turned to the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary group accused of atrocities in other countries where it operates.