Civilian deaths and rights abuses attributable to the Malian armed forces and backed by “foreign military elements” have surged in the first quarter of 2022, a United Nations report has said, with the killings seeing a 324 percent rise during the previous quarter.
“Malian Armed Forces, supported on certain occasions by foreign military elements, increased military operations to combat terrorism … some of which sometimes ended in serious allegations of violations of human rights,” the UN’s Malian mission, known as MINUSMA, said in the report released on Monday.
The report did not identify the “foreign military elements” supporting the army.
The total number of people killed in the first quarter of 2022 by all parties in the conflict – rebels, self-defence groups and security forces – quadrupled during the last three months of 2021, rising from 128 to 543.
A total of 248 civilian deaths were attributable to the defence and security forces, the report said.
MINUSMA documented 320 human rights violations by the Malian military in the January-March period, compared with 31 in the previous three months.
The report comes just as Mali cut ties with former colonial power France and as Wagner Group, a Russian private military contractor, was roped in to help the government fight an armed rebellion.
The most notable case was in the town of Moura, where witnesses and rights groups say the Malian army accompanied by white fighters killed dozens of civilians they suspected of being rebels.
“In addition to summary executions, security forces also allegedly raped, looted, arrested and arbitrarily detained many civilians during the military operation,” MINUSMA said.
MINUSMA is conducting an investigation but has been refused access to the town. MINUSMA said its request will only be considered once the government has conducted its own investigation.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said that Malian soldiers and white foreign soldiers executed 300 civilians in Moura, in the centre of the country, between March 27-31.
Concerns about regional instability
Mali’s military, which took power in a 2020 coup, says it “neutralised” 203 rebel fighters in Moura.
The Mali government did not respond to requests for comment by Reuters. Colonel Assimi Goita led coups in 2020 and 2021 before becoming president of the West African nation.
Wagner Group could not be reached by Reuters.
The landlocked Sahel country has been hit by violence since 2012 when armed groups took over the country’s north. France intervened to drive them away from the region, but by 2015 they had regrouped and unleashed a wave of attacks in the central part of the country.
They have since spread into Niger and Burkina Faso, raising concerns of regional instability.
The army has developed closer ties with Russia, bringing in personnel that it describes as military instructors, but which France and others say are operatives of Wagner, the controversial Kremlin-linked security firm.
Western powers strongly opposed Wagner’s intervention, warning that it could stoke violence in Mali and neighbouring countries where communities face growing levels of drought, malnutrition and poverty.