Western powers accuse the Malian military and Russian mercenaries of crimes against humanity in the fight against insecurity in the Sahel.
United Nations experts on Tuesday called for an independent investigation into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Mali by government forces and Russian private military contractor the Wagner Group.
Mali, whose government took power in a 2021 military coup, has previously said Russian forces in the West African country are not mercenaries but trainers helping local troops with equipment bought from Moscow.
Western powers say the Russian forces in Mali include Wagner Group contractors.
“Since 2021, the experts have received persistent and alarming accounts of horrific executions, mass graves, acts of torture, rape and sexual violence, pillaging, arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances perpetrated by Malian armed forces and their allies,” said the statement from the independent experts.
Mali’s army spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said last year that the Russian state had nothing to do with military contractors working in Mali, adding that the African country had the right to work with private Russian firms.
Mali is engaged in a fight against armed groups linked to al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS) who have waged a decade-long conflict that has spread to neighbouring countries.
Tuesday’s statement mentioned the Wagner Group by name, and described credible reports of the involvement of military personnel believed to belong to the group in a massacre of hundreds of people in March.
Survivors have said that white mercenaries suspected to be Russians took part in the massacre in Moura, a market town in central Mali. The incident sparked international uproar and prompted the UN to open an earlier investigation.
Mali’s army has denied any wrongdoing in Moura and said it killed 203 militants there during what it described as a military operation.
The Wagner Group has attracted international attention over its prominent role in fighting during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Last week, the United States designated Wagner as a “transnational criminal organisation” responsible for widespread human rights abuses.