UN experts have urged an immediate independent investigation into gross human rights abuses and possible war crimes committed in Mali by government forces and the private military contractor known as the Wagner Group.
In Tuesday's statement the experts said that since 2021, they received persistent and alarming accounts of horrific executions, mass graves, acts of torture, rape, sexual violence, pillaging, arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances.
Malian forces and their allies have perpetrated the actions in the Mopti area and other places where there are hostilities.
"We are particularly worried by credible reports that over several days in late March 2022, Malian armed forces, accompanied by military personnel believed to belong to the Wagner Group, executed several hundred people, who had been rounded up in Moura, a village in central Mali," the experts said in a statement.
"We are disturbed by the apparent increased outsourcing of traditional military functions to the so-called Wagner Group in various military operations, also encompassing operations defined as counter-terrorism, including in Nia Ouro, Gouni, and Fakala."
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Last Thursday, the US formally designated Russia's Wagner Group as a transnational criminal organisation and sanctioned associated targets.
"Mali must exert the utmost vigilance in prohibiting the direct participation in hostilities of all private individuals operating on its territory," said the experts. "The use of mercenaries, mercenary-like actors, and private security and military companies only exacerbates the cycle of violence and impunity prevailing in the country."
Victims of the Wagner Group face challenges in accessing justice and remedying human rights abuses, including sexual violence and related crimes committed against them, particularly in light of the secrecy and opacity surrounding the group's activities in Mali, said experts.
"The lack of transparency and ambiguity over the legal status of the Wagner Group, combined with reprisals against those daring to speak out, create an overall climate of terror and complete impunity for victims of the Wagner Group's abuses," they noted.
The experts said they had conveyed their concerns about the allegations to the Mali government.
Since 2012, Mali has been battling growing violence linked to the Al Qaeda and Daesh terror groups in northern and central Mali.
The experts include Ravindran Daniel (Chair-Rapporteur); Jelena Aparac, Carlos Salazar Couto, Chris Kwaja, and Sorcha MacLeod from the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries to violate human rights; Fionnuala Ni Aolain, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in countering terrorism and Alice Jill Edwards, Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel Punishment.
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