Researchers say a Russian mercenary group should be investigated for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
A group of UN-appointed independent experts earlier this week issued a statement calling on Malian authorities to launch a probe into the mass killing of civilians last year.
The executions are believed to have been carried out by government troops with the support of Wagner Group, a Russian-based private military contractor headed up by a key Putin ally.
The panel of experts, which includes members of the UN Working Group on Mercenaries, said that Wagner’s operations in Mali have been facilitated by ‘a climate of terror and complete impunity.’
They added: ‘We are particularly worried by credible reports that over the course of 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.’
Those killings were followed in November of last year by the massacre of at least 13 civilians in the region of Mopti, again allegedly carried out by Russian mercenaries.
The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, a non-profit tracking conflict across the world, has described Wagner’s operations in Mali as involving ‘mass atrocities, torture, summary executions, looting, the introduction of booby traps as a counter-insurgency tactic, and influence operations in the information environment.’
Members of the organisation are widely reported to be fighting alongside Russian troops in Ukraine, following a recruitment drive last year that saw thousands of convicts on-boarded directly from Russian jails.
More recently, the private military contractor has attracted international censure for reported atrocities committed in the Central African Republic (CAR).
According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR), Russian mercenaries in the CAR are ‘committing systemic and grave human rights and international humanitarian law violations, including arbitrary detention, torture, disappearances and summary execution.’
Further claims against the group also emerged from Cameroon earlier this week, with testimony from victims claiming to have been trafficked into sexual exploitation at the hands of Wagner mercenaries.
The Malian government has been fighting a jihadist groups in the north and central regions of the country for many years.
Under Mali’s military regime, anti-insurgency operations have been increasingly outsourced to Wagner under the terms of a lucrative deal struck in late 2021.
The panel of UN experts further warned that the close relationship between Wagner and the Malian state has likely created a fear of reprisal that has prevented victims and advocates in the country from speaking out against the organisation’s alleged abuses.
Wagner Group belongs to a sprawling network of high-value companies owned by sanctioned Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin.
After a nine-year stint in prison during the 1990s for robbery and fraud, Prigozhin rose from humble beginnings as a hotdog vendor to become a key supporter of the Russian government.
His close ties to the Russian president have earned him the moniker ‘Putin’s Chef’, on account of the number of dinners with foreign dignitaries Putin has hosted at various high-end restaurants owned by Prigozhin.
In September, the oligarch admitted he’d set up Wagner Group in 2014 with the specific goal of supporting Russian forces fighting alongside separatists in the Donbas region of Ukraine.
Then, in November, he also admitted to having played a role in Russian attempts to influence US elections, and warned that such operations would continue for the foreseeable.
Prigozhin, his companies and known business associates are currently facing criminal charges in the United States for their involvement in these activities, with the FBI offering a reward of $250,000 for any information leading to the mercenary chief’s arrest.
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