Russia Expresses Displeasure Over UNCHR’s Report on Mali

Russian Foreign Ministry has expressed high dissatisfaction over the final report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, on the human rights related-political developments in the West African republic of Mali. 

That report released on May 12, 2023, by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, on the events in Mali largely concerns “crimes” committed in March 2022 near the town of Moura in one of the central provinces of the country.

Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, during her weekly media briefing on May 17, said it was regrettable that OHCHR experts have essentially become involved in a misinformation campaign. Sadly, the report was not based on official information or the results of an investigation conducted by the Malian authorities but with reference to anonymous sources and some ostensibly trustworthy resources.  

“The goal of planting this sort of information is to persuade the international public that the Malian and foreign military personnel were responsible for the killings of local civilians. Certain Western countries and the media under their control are clearly content with these allegations,” she said.

According to her, there should a clear format specifically for this type of reports. There must be no anonymous sources or unidentified interviewees a priori. Therefore, it is a document, not an expert’s private opinion, that must rely on trustworthy, credible and verifiable information. “On many occasions in the UN, at the Secretariat and among the member states, we have noted attempts to globally spread misinformation that were eventually disavowed by life itself. We have learned to trust but verify. This is why we also noted this particular report,”she angrily explained.

Zakharova, however, believes that this one-sided and non-constructive approach by the OHCHR risks undermining the reputation of this UN body and prompts questions about the Office’s impartiality. “We strongly urge UN experts to exercise their mandate in a depoliticised manner and strictly adhere to the principles of universality, impartiality, objectivity and non-discrimination, mutually respectful dialogue and cooperation,” concluded Zakharova.

Prior to the March 22 report by the Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, there were a number of other well-researched reports. For instance, Human Rights Watch (HRW) noted last year that Malian forces and foreign fighters killed 300 civilians in Moura, late March. The report described as “the worst single atrocity reported in Mali’s decade-long armed conflict.” Several witnesses and other sources identified the foreign white soldiers as Russians to Human Rights Watch.

According to the report, the massacre took place over four days, with the vast majority of the victims being ethnic Fulanis group. Moura is small provincial town, epicenter of conflict-related violence. “The soldiers patrolled through town, executing several men as they tried to flee, and detaining hundreds of unarmed men from the market and their homes. The incident is the worst single atrocity reported in Mali’s decade-long armed conflict,” the HRW report said.

“Abuses by armed Islamist groups is no justification at all for the military’s deliberate slaughter of people in custody. The Malian government is responsible for this atrocity – the worst in Mali in a decade — whether carried out by Malian forces or associated foreign soldiers,” the report said.

Experts interviewed for this article argued that Russia has not carried it own investigations and has not presented any report since the accusation over the mass murder allegedly committed by the security forces, including the foreign ones, in Moura. This city is small provincial town which has a population of around 10,000 is the epicenter of conflict-related violence.

As well-known facts, two military coups have taken place in Mali since August 2020. in the latest, Col. Assimi Goita and his government have halted relations with France, moved closer to Russia. Several reports indicate that Russia has assigned, what is officially described as military instructors to Mali. The United States, France and European Union say the instructors are operatives from the Russian private security firm Wagner.

As has been in the past, under the new military leadership harrowing accounts of human rights abuses emerged. In addition to the previous abuses, the late March massacre of about 300 people in the village Malian village of Moura became very questionable, and broadly called for international condemnation. 

Moscow is highly interested in exploring natural resources, has mining concession agreements in exchange with military weapons and equipment. The military is keen on fighting what it termed “active terrorist groups” in the country. On the other hand, Moscow is aggressively moving its military-technical cooperation, shows the desire to ensure the country’s defense capabilities, especially in the face of the persisting terrorist threat in the region.

According to several reports especially from Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, Reuters and Deutsche Welle as well as British Broadcasting Corporation, Mali’s authorities have an agreement with the Russian private military company Wagner Group that replaced the French military. Reuters reported that the contract could be worth $10.8 million a month. Mali has taken delivery of military equipment and a few hundreds of military experts and instructors are operating in the country till today.

For the African Union and ECOWAS, the scale and gravity of Mali’s military leadership violating human rights, of course, is a strong signal to hold them for responsible for this crimes which many have described reports and images of civilian killings as disturbing. Most importantly, there must be thorough systematic investigations to ascertain the primary causes, the implications and possibly to take punitive actions.

During the 36th Ordinary Session of the African Union (AU) held in Addis Ababa, African leaders spoke the most significant questions especially those including peace and security necessary for sustainable development, halting the frequency of military’s appearance unto the political scene and consolidating continental efforts for improving economic development, especially during this crucial time of geopolitical changes sweeping across the world.

Ethiopia as a host country, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, interestingly used the phrase – “African solutions to African problems” – seven times during his speech delivered on February 18 at the opening session. Besides everything, in relation to all existing conflicts and disputes on the continent, Abiy Ahmed uniquely emphasised  that “it is necessary to mobilise collective efforts to resolve them and must be confined to this continent and quarantined from the contamination of non-African interference.” 

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, stressing the importance of “transparency and accountability” in security operations, has also called on the Malian army and its “bilateral partners” – widely interpreted as an implicit reference to Russian mercenaries – to respect their international obligations amid growing concerns over human rights violations.

Many regional and foreign organisations have repeatedly urged the military leaders or adminstration to take efforts toward resolving outstanding political issues especially those relating transition to constitutional elected government and observe strictly the laid down principles of democracy. 

With a population of nearly 20 million people, Mali is a landlocked country located on rivers of Senegal and Niger in West Africa. Since its independence from the French colony, it has had not only persistent political and governance problems, but also difficulties in tapping its existing resources. Worse is the previous governments’ adopting of poor economic policies which have resulted in current condition of under-development in the country.

As a developing country, it ranks at the bottom of the United Nations Development Index (2020 report). The Republic of Mali, the former french colony, is under ECOWAS sanctions and has been stripped off the membership of the African Union (AU) and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Kester Kenn Klomegah
Kester Kenn Klomegah
MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.