467 views | Akpan Akata | April 1, 2021
United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA) has concluded that the January 3 French military airstrike on the central Malian village of Bounty, hit a group largely made up of civilians, killing several of them.
The day after the attack, a MINUSMA fact-finding team, made up of 15 human rights officers, and supported by two UN forensics experts and two public information officers, was deployed to investigate the strike, and shed light on the allegations surrounding the deaths.
As part of their investigation, the team organised at least 115 face-to-face interviews, spoke to at least 200 people during group meetings, and carried out more than a hundred telephone interviews.
The experts also studied at least 150 documents, including official statements and news articles, as well as photographs and videos related to the Bounty strike.
On January 25, with the support and air cover of the MINUSMA force, the team travelled to Bounty and visited the location of the airstrike, and the alleged burial site of those killed.
UN Special Representative in Mali, and head of MINUSMA, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, says “I welcome the fact that this important work has been carried out by MINUSMA with the cooperation of all parties concerned, in accordance with its human rights mandate.”
The MINUSMA investigators were able to confirm reports that a wedding celebration was hit by the French airstrike, declared the press release, and that some hundred civilians were present, as well as five armed insurgents, presumed to be members of the Katiba Serma militant group.
“At least 22 people, including three of the suspected Katiba Serma members present at the gathering place, were killed by the Barkhane Force [French military] strike on January 3, 2021 in Bounty” the statement continues.
“19 were directly affected by the strike, including 16 civilians, while the other three civilians died of their injuries during their transfer for emergency treatment. At least eight other civilians were injured in the strike. The victims are all men aged 23 to 71, the majority of whom lived in the village of Bounty”.
Based on the findings of the investigators, MINUSMA recommends that the Malian and French authorities conduct “an independent, credible and transparent investigation” to investigate the circumstances of the strike; its impact on the civilian population of Bounty; and possible violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.
The French government, in a January 7 statement, claimed that their Mirage 3000 fighter planes had killed some 30 armed Islamist fighters, north of Bounty, but doubts were cast on these claims, leading the non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch to call for an impartial investigation.
Before now, some progress was made towards restoring peace and stability in Mali as outlined in a fragile 2015 peace deal, yet sustainable peace developments were not happening fast enough, the Security Council heard in October 2019.
Briefing on the Secretary-General’s report via videoconference from the capital Bamako, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, Special Representative and head of the UN Mission to the country (MINUSMA), said that while accounts of violence continue to surge, some efforts to accelerate disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR), as set out in the 2015 Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali, have proved fruitful.
“The report under your consideration is being presented at a time, when latest developments from Mali are not very encouraging”, Saleh Annadif lamented, citing attacks near the Burkina Faso border last week, and the death of a MINUSMA ‘blue helmet’ and wounding of another, just 48 hours ago.
“In spite of these repeated attacks committed by enemies of peace, significant strides forward have been achieved in implementing the agreement, in particular as far as the political and institutional reform are concerned, security issues and matters of socioeconomic development”, he said.
Malian authorities and two coalitions of armed groups, signed the Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali three years ago in an effort to stabilise the country, following violent clashes, and a failed coup by extremists, three years prior. Since 2013, nearly 200 peacekeepers have been killed, making MINUSMA the deadliest UN mission in the world.
According to the UN, the security situation has deteriorated significantly in recent years, in particular, ongoing conflicts in the North have spread to the country’s centre, with increases in incidents of kidnapping, and assassinations of civilians as well as parties to the peace agreement.
When it comes to central Mali, the MINUSMA chief called for a greater presence of security and defense forces, which is seeing its highest number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) since 2015.
Acknowledging the continuing instability, Security Council resolution (2480) which extended MINUSMA’s mandate through June 2020, also adopted a strategy specifically aimed at protecting civilians in the region.
In late September, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta told the UN General Assembly that Mali would prepare to hold a national dialogue to prompt reconciliations and strengthening of democracy, which Saleh Annadif confirmed, got underway on Monday, October 7.
The national discussions are meant to address the root causes of the country’s political and social upheavals and serve as an opportunity for Malians to talk to one another and be included in the peace process, which have already begun at the local level.
“We can really congratulate the Malian political class and civil society for this very important step forward,” he said, urging for an appeal for political actors to take part in the debate, in order to ensure inclusive participation in the peace dialogue.
Looking forward, the peace dialogue is expected to expand to the regional level by the end of the month. In addition, Saleh Annadif shared that MINUSMA and UN Women will support a November workshop on the inclusion of women in the peace process, also in line with resolution 2480.