A U.N. report on Monday said civilian deaths and human rights abuses by Malian soldiers surged in the first quarter of 2022, but Bamako sees these as biased and unsubstantiated allegations aimed at sullying its military.
While jihadists remain the largest source of violence against civilians, the death toll and other abuses linked to the armed forces have “increased exponentially”, “with the support of foreign military elements”, the UN MINUSMA peacekeepers said.
In the first quarter of 2022, the death toll for all parties to the conflict – jihadists, militias, self-defence groups and security forces – quadrupled in the last three months of 2021, from 128 to 543.
A total of 248 civilians were killed by defence and security forces, the report said.
It recorded 320 human rights abuses possibly attributable to government forces during the period – a tenfold increase from the 31 cases recorded in the fourth quarter of 2021.
The report did not identify “foreign military elements” supporting the army.
The United Nations is “very concerned” about the overall security situation and deterioration in central Mali and the so-called trilateral area of Burkina Faso and Niger, said Daniela Crosslake, deputy special representative of MINUSMA.
– Jihad Rebellion –
The landlocked Sahel nation has been battling a jihadist insurgency since 2012.
In August 2020, soldiers disgruntled at the mounting military toll ousted the elected president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
The junta has since forged closer ties with Russia, bringing in what it describes as military instructors, but Mali’s former colonial ruler France and others say they are agents of the controversial Kremlin-linked security firm Wagner. .
The arrival of Wagner’s personnel is one reason why France announced in February that it was withdrawing its troops from Mali after nearly a decade of deployments aimed at fighting jihadists.
Paris also argues that Malian authorities have repeatedly thwarted their operations.
MINUSMA reported that at least 21 civilians were summarily executed by the Malian armed forces, while others were reported missing.
The report also documented the discovery of 35 charred bodies, including those of people previously arrested by the armed forces, a claim that Malian authorities have denied.
Most of these victims were members of the Fulani or Peul communities, who were accused of sympathizing with the jihadists.
“In addition to extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary and other executions, the UN report included 45 cases of enforced or involuntary disappearances and several cases of arbitrary arrests, as well as “torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”.
The report said the “well-documented” abuses were specifically blamed on Malian security forces.
In a memo responding to the MINSUMA report, Mali’s foreign ministry said the “often partisan, unsubstantiated” allegations were aimed at discrediting the army and were based on “no tangible evidence”.
It added that respect for human rights is part of soldiers’ training and preparation for operations.
The ministry responded to every case brought by MINUSMA, saying the Malian authorities had launched their own investigations and that the mission’s objectives were based on fabricated documents.
– ‘Public liberties are restricted’ –
MINUSMA human rights director Guillaume Engfa said in a videoconference that the figures released “do not include incidents in Mora,” a village central to reports of a massacre of civilians in March.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Malian soldiers and white foreign soldiers executed 300 civilians in Mora, in the center of the country, from March 27 to 31.
Mali said it “neutralized” 203 jihadists in Mora.
Engelfa said the MINUSMA investigation into the killings was “very advanced” but not yet complete.
Malian authorities still do not allow UN experts to visit the site.
The MINUSMA report stated that the Malian authorities had announced their own investigation into the Mora incident.
They told the UN mission that they would “consider” access to the site once their own investigation was completed.
More generally, the MINUSMA report noted the “constant narrowing” of democratic debate, as well as restrictions on the exercise of public freedoms.