Russia’s Wagner mercenaries accused of atrocities against civilians in Mali — HRW

Russian mercenaries from the Kremlin-backed Wagner Group working alongside Malian armed forces have unlawfully killed and summarily executed dozens of civilians in the West African country since December, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The Russian mercenary group has been helping government forces in counter-insurgency operations in central and northern Mali, carrying out raids and drone strikes that have killed scores of civilians, including many children, the HRW said in its report released on Thursday (28 March). These include a drone strike on a wedding celebration that killed at least five men and two boys, which was followed by another deadly drone attack the next day, as villagers attempted to bury the bodies, killing five men and two boys. “Mali’s Russia-backed transitional military government is committing horrific abuses and is leaving the regional group that could provide scrutiny into its human rights situation,” the report stated.

Mali has fought an insurgency for more than a decade against Islamist groups, including those allied with al Qaeda and the Islamic State. As relations between Paris and Bamako soured in the wake of military coups, French troops pulled out of the West African country in August 2022, while Mali’s ruling junta has increasingly looked toward Russia for security assistance. Mali’s junta government then expelled a UN support mission there and said it would withdraw from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which provided a rare opportunity for abuse victims to seek justice through its court system. Therefore, the HRW report also calls for the renewal of the mandate of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s independent expert on human rights in Mali, who assists the Malian government to protect human rights.