United Nations investigators into violence in Mali have told the Security Council of evidence that security forces committed war crimes, and fighters and other armed groups perpetrated crimes against humanity.
The allegations were made in a 338-page report by the International Commission of Inquiry for Mali, a three-member panel which investigated violence that unfolded over six years from 2012-2018.
The probe, whose conclusions have been sent to the Security Council but have not yet been made public, recommends setting up a court that specialises in prosecuting international crimes.
“The Commission has reasonable grounds to believe that the Malian defence and security forces committed war crimes, including violence to the life and person of civilians and persons hors de combat suspected of being affiliated or cooperating with extremist armed groups,” says the report, acquired by the AFP news agency on Tuesday.
The landlocked Sahel country descended into violence in 2012 when ethnic Tuareg separatists launched an armed uprising in the north of the country, which was then overtaken by an armed campaign of fighters.
France, the former colonial power, launched a military operation in 2013. The fighters then regrouped and expanded their campaign into central Mali, inflaming a region with ethnic rivalries, before advancing into neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.
Thousands have died and hundreds of thousands have fled their homes.
“The Commission considers that extremist armed groups committed crimes against humanity and war crimes,” the report says.
These include “murder, maiming and other cruel treatment, rape and other forms of sexual violence, hostage-taking and attacks against personnel of humanitarian organisations and MINUSMA”, the UN peacekeeping force in Mali.
The report was drawn up by a commission comprising Lena Sundh of Sweden, Simon Munzu of Cameroon and Vinod Boolell, a Mauritian, who were appointed by the UN secretary-general in January 2018.
They handed their report to UN chief Antonio Guterres in mid-2020, and he sent it last week to the 15-member Security Council.
The investigation details in chronological order 140 cases of violence or abuse between 2012 and 2018.
In 2013, security forces in northern Mali carried out “many killings” of Tuareg, Arabs and Fulani, also called Peuls, who were suspected of links to armed groups, it found.
From 2015, violence on civilians moved to the volatile centre of the country, starting with the Fulani community, which had become associated with the fighters after a firebrand Fulani preacher named Amadou Koufa set up an armed group.
In one incident, on June 17, 2017, an armed group called Dan Na Ambassagou, which is drawn from the Dogon community, retaliated for the death of one of their members by attacking several Fulani hamlets, killing at least 39 civilians, including children.
The raids marked the beginning of “systematic” attacks on the Fulani in Koro, the report says.
“The Commission has reasonable grounds to believe that those acts amount to murder that constitutes a crime against humanity,” it says.
It also names three Tuareg or Arab armed groups as having committed war crimes – the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, known by its acronym in French of MNLA; the Self-Defence Group of Imghad Tuareg and Their Allies (GATIA), and the Arab Movement of Azaward-Platform (MAA-Plateforme).
Unlike other UN reports, the conclusions of the International Commission of Inquiry can be used as a legal basis for possible prosecution.