UN rights chief decries death of 50 people in Mali attacks

The UN official said he was ‘appalled’ by the killings in central Mali.

A member of the Malian special forces stands guard during the ceremony that celebrates the national army day
A member of the Malian special forces stands guard during celebration for national army day in January 2022 [File: Florent Vergnes/AFP]

The UN rights chief on Thursday said he was “appalled” by alleged summary executions of 25 people by Mali’s army and “foreign military personnel” last week in a region plagued by violence from armed groups.

Volker Turk also expressed alarm at the killing of approximately 30 others in attacks over the weekend in central Mali, a particular hotbed of violence.

“I am appalled by credible allegations that Malian armed forces accompanied by foreign military personnel summarily executed at least 25 people in Welingara village, in the central Nara region on 26 January,” Turk said in a statement.

“I am also alarmed by reports that about 30 civilians were killed in attacks by yet unidentified gunmen on two other villages – Ogota and Oimbe – in the Bandiagara region over this past weekend,” he added.

Gathering and verifying information in Mali is made difficult by the country’s vast geography, deteriorating communications infrastructure and security concerns.

Rebel violence that started in northern Mali in 2012 spread to the centre of the country in 2015, when Katiba Macina – an al-Qaeda-affiliated group – was established, led by the Fulani hardline preacher Amadou Kouffa.

West Africa recorded more than 1,800 attacks in the first six months of 2023, resulting in nearly 4,600 deaths and creating dire humanitarian consequences. According to an ECOWAS top regional official, this was just “a snippet of the horrendous impact of insecurity”.

Mali is currently led by a military government that seized power in 2020 and turned away from former colonial power France, before pushing the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSMA to leave at the end of 2023.

The government has chosen instead to pivot towards Russia, both politically and militarily. This January, it announced its withdrawal from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), alongside Burkina Faso and Niger, which are also led by their militaries. The regional bloc has been central in condemning and imposing sanctions on the trio after the takeovers.

France once had a strong presence across the Sahel, but announced the withdrawal of its troops from the three countries after the coups.

Many observers have claimed Mali has enlisted the services of Russian mercenaries, despite frequent Malian denials.

The UN and local sources have regularly accused the Malian army and its allies of abuses against civilians, which Mali has also categorically denied.

UN rights investigators and groups like Human Rights Watch said that Malian troops and foreign forces – presumed to be Wagner – were behind the massacre of at least 500 people in the central Malian town of Moura in March 2022.

“It is essential that all allegations of arbitrary deprivations of life, including summary executions, are fully and impartially investigated and those found responsible brought to justice in trials observing international standards,” the UN rights chief said Thursday.

To date, none of the investigations launched in Mali into abuses by the military has been successful.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies, News Agencies