Dakar, Senegal –
The Malian army has carried out summary executions, looting, enforced disappearances and other ill-treatment along with mercenaries from the Wagner Group alleged to have ties to Russia, a leading human rights group said Monday.
Human Rights Watch said atrocities occurred in central Mali, with dozens of civilians summarily executed or forcibly disappeared since December 2022. Human rights groups interviewed 40 people, including witnesses, by telephone and reviewed videos that “show evidence of abuses by Malian soldiers and associated foreign fighters.”
Witnesses interviewed by HRW said the abuses included the killing of at least 20 civilians, including a woman and a six-year-old, by “a large number of Malian and ‘white’ foreign soldiers” during operations in the Mopti area.
HRW said many of the abuses took place during military operations in response to the presence of extremist groups in the Mopti and Segou regions, and all but one involved armed groups of non-French-speaking foreigners dubbed “whites,” “Russians” and “Wagners,” the report said.
Most of the civilians killed, arrested, and forcibly disappeared are Fulani, and extremists are targeting them for recruitment.
Mali has struggled to contain an Islamic extremist uprising since 2012. The following year, extremist rebels, aided by a French-led military campaign, were forced out of power in cities in northern Mali, but rallied in the desert and launched attacks against the Malian army and its allies.
The country’s military junta will expel the French army in 2022 and is accepting up to 1,000 fighters from Russia’s shadow military contractor Wagner Group. The Wagner Group, which works in partnership with the Malian military, has been accused of human rights abuses by human rights groups and civilians.
In response to HRW’s correspondence, Mali’s foreign ministry said it was not aware of any abuse and that an investigation into the allegations would be launched.
The report comes weeks after Mali expelled a UN peacekeeping mission that had been operating in the country for a decade and investigating human rights abuses as part of its operations.
“[The UN mission]had its flaws and weaknesses, but it was able to carry out very important activities, such as providing a minimum level of security to urban areas in central and northern Mali,” Ilaria Allegrozzi, a senior fellow at HRW, told the Associated Press.
Allegrozzi added that he was “concerned whether civilians living in the most dangerous areas would receive the protection they need” given Wagner’s army’s “horrible reputation and appalling human rights record”.
Reports of abuses by the Malian military and foreign forces, believed to be Russian, are not new.
Last year, the United Nations Office for Human Rights said more than 500 people were killed by Malian and foreign soldiers during military operations in the village of Moura, most of them summarily executed.
Allegrozzi said the government’s counter-terrorism strategy was abusive and failed to eliminate security instability.
“Killing civilians in the name of security doesn’t help,” she says.