International watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) has condemned the summary execution of an estimated 300 people, including civilians and suspected members of armed groups during a military operation conducted by Malian forces and foreign fighters.
The alleged massacre, described in a Tuesday statement by HRW as “the worst single atrocity reported in Mali’s decade-long conflict”, happened in the central Malian town of Moura during a military operation that started on March 27.
“Abuses by armed Islamist groups is no justification at all for the military’s deliberate slaughter of people in custody,” said Corinne Dufka, HRW’s Sahel director.
“The Malian government is responsible for this atrocity, the worst in Mali in a decade, whether carried about by Malian forces or associated foreign soldiers,” she added.
Mass killing is a breach of international law that prohibits abuses against captured combatants and detained civilians, according to Article 3 of the Geneva Convention.
On Friday, Mali’s defence ministry issued a statement saying that 203 “terrorists” were killed during an air-land military operation from March 23 to April 3.
The rights group gathered the account of 27 people, including community leaders, diplomats, security analysts and witnesses from Moura – a town of about 10,000 residents that has been the epicentre of violence waged by armed groups since 2012.
New @hrw report reveals how Malian army forces + foreign soldiers – identified by several sources as Russians – summarily executed about 300 civilian men, some of them suspected Islamist fighters, in #Mali in late March.
Urgent need for credible inquiry. https://t.co/I2LjqBNPBK pic.twitter.com/s4eWeAWnHv
— Ida Sawyer (@ida_sawyer) April 5, 2022
HRW concluded that Malian soldiers and foreign fighters, which several sources identified as white non-French speaking soldiers, executed several hundred people in the city in small groups, over the course of several days.
“Over the four days, the soldiers ordered the detained men in groups of four, six, or up to 10, to stand up and walk for between several dozen and several hundred meters,” the HRW report cited a witness as saying.
“There, the Malian and foreign soldiers summarily executed them,” the witness said, adding that some victims were shot in the head, while other groups of men were sprayed by gunfire.
“The sound of gunfire rang out in our village from Monday to Thursday,” one resident reportedly said.
Residents also told HRW that since January many armed foreigners, believed to be Russians, were taking part in military operations in and around the central Malian towns of Sofara, Ségou, Mopti, Diabaly, and Belidanédji among others.
The vast majority of those killed by the Malian military and allied forces, read the report, were men from the pastoralist Peuhl, or Fulani, an ethnic group from which armed groups have heavily recruited in the past.
“The Malian government should urgently and impartially investigate these mass killings, including the role of foreign soldiers,” Dufka said.
“For such investigations to be sufficiently independent and credible, the authorities should seek assistance from the African Union and the United Nations,” she added.