DAKAR, Senegal — Mercenaries from the Wagner private military company may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in the West African nation of Mali along with the country’s military, United Nations experts said Tuesday, calling for an independent investigation into multiple instances of human rights abuses.
“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” of the Wagner company, a group of independent experts, enlisted by the UN Human Rights Council to look into the group, said in a statement.
Since the Kremlin-affiliated group began conducting operations with the Malian military, its mercenaries have been suspected of disproportionately targeting civilians, raising alarms among human rights groups and Western governments that have repeatedly denounced the group at the UN Security Council.
African officials have also increasingly warned about the risk of destabilization and ethnic violence that the group could provoke.
The United States named the Wagner military group as a significant transnational criminal organization in January, a move expected to discourage countries and institutions from doing business with the company.
Wagner has drawn international attention in the past year as a vital adjunct to the Russian military, often more effective than the regular army, in the Kremlin’s war on Ukraine. Its leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has tried to cast himself and his mercenaries as an essential, brutal instrument of Russian military and foreign policy.
In Africa, Wagner has been involved in at least a half-dozen countries, and in Mali, Western officials estimate that around 1,000 Wagner operatives may be deployed alongside the country’s military, which has been fighting a jihadi insurgency that has swept the country’s north and center.
But these tactics have come at a high price for local populations. Among other instances of human rights abuses, Wagner mercenaries and Malian soldiers have been accused of a massacre in the village of Moura, killing hundreds of people — including many unarmed captives and people who had no apparent ties to the insurgency — during a five-day siege last March.