That’s according to a fact-finding report from the UN human rights office (OHCHR) released on Friday, on what the Malian authorities had described as an anti-terrorist military operation against an al-Qaeda-affiliated group known as Katiba Macina.
The UN rights chief, Volker Türk, called the findings “extremely disturbing” and stressed that “summary executions, rape and torture during armed conflict amount to war crimes and could, depending on the circumstances, amount to crimes against humanity”.
Authorities blocking access
OHCHR said that the Malian authorities had repeatedly denied requests by the fact-finding team to access the village of Moura itself. Witnesses interviewed by the team reported seeing “armed white men” who spoke an unknown language operating alongside the Malian forces.
At least 58 women and girls were raped or subjected to other forms of sexual violence.
In January, UN Human Rights Council-appointed independent human rights experts called on the Malian authorities to launch an immediate probe into the mass executions, alleging the involvement of the Russian-based Wagner mercenary group.
Experts said that a “climate of terror and complete impunity” had surrounded the private military contractor’s activities in Mali.
The UN rights chief insisted that those responsible for the violations should be held to account, and that the Malian authorities must ensure that both their own forces and foreign military personnel under their command, respect international law.
OHCHR said that according to witnesses, on the day of the killings, a military helicopter flew over Moura, opening fire on people, while four other helicopters landed and troops disembarked. The soldiers corralled people into the centre of the village, shooting randomly at those trying to escape.
Some Katiba Macina militants in the crowd fired back at the troops and at least 20 civilians and a dozen alleged members of the armed group were killed.
Killed over four days
Then, over the next four days, at least 500 people are believed to have been summarily executed, the report says. The fact-finding team has obtained extensive personal identification details, including the names of at least 238 of these victims, said OHCHR.
According to witnesses, Malian troops were rotated in and out of Moura daily, but the foreign personnel remained for the duration of the operation.
The Malian authorities did announce an investigation shortly after the attack took place, but more than a year later and pending the final outcome of the investigation, continue to deny wrongdoing by their armed forces.