Can the UN mission in Mali continue with its investigation?

By Benjamin Roger, Fatoumata Diallo
Posted on Friday, 8 April 2022 13:02

Malian soldiers pictured during a patrol with soldiers from the new Takuba force near the Niger border in Dansongo Circle, Mali, 23 August 2021. Picture taken 23 August 2021 © REUTERS/ Paul Lorgerie
Malian soldiers pictured during a patrol with soldiers from the new Takuba force near the Niger border in Dansongo Circle, Mali, 23 August 2021. Picture taken 23 August 2021 © REUTERS/ Paul Lorgerie

The increasing number of abuses attributed to the Malian army and Wagner's mercenaries underline the difficulty of the task facing the UN mission in Mali, especially since it is divided internally.

Between 200 and 400 dead. The figures, although still imprecise, indicate the scale of the killing that took place in Moura, located in the central part of the country, between 27 March and 1 April.

During those few days, the Malian army – accompanied by Wagner’s mercenaries – officially carried out a “large-scale operation” against “armed terrorist groups.” However, many sources denounce a “massacre” in which civilians, in particular Fulani, were killed indiscriminately.

Very quickly, there were calls for an independent investigation to shed light on what had happened in Moura. As is often the case in such matters, the eyes of the world turned to Minusma, the UN mission in Mali.

Although it has more than 12,000 troops and 1,500 police officers on Malian soil, representatives from the UN peacekeeping mission, which was set up in 2013, insist that it is not an offensive force. It is not allowed to attack or prevent the Malian army from carrying out operations – which explains why it did not intervene in Moura, even though it has a base only 30km away in Mopti.

El Ghassim Wane, the source of blockages?

One of Minusma’s priorities is promoting and protecting human rights. But while an increasing number of accusations of abuse have been levelled against the Malis’s army Forces Armées Maliennes (Fama) in recent weeks, questions are now being raised about Minusma’s effectiveness in this area.

According to concordant sources, the cause is the “blockages” inflicted by El Ghassim Wane, the head of Minusma, who often prevents or slows down the publication of reports and investigations written by its human rights division (DH).

“Wane is very afraid of disturbing his relationship with the junta, so he is very cautious when it comes to this subject,” says a UN official, who refers to a “need for professional survival.” In other words, Wane slows down the progress of these sensitive issues so that he won’t fall out with the transitional authorities and jeopardise his future.

“Reports have been accumulating. They should – or could – have come out, but they didn’t. Under Annadif [Wane’s predecessor], the reports came out. Not with Wane. There is a slowdown in publications,” says an internal source.

However, the source did make sure to point out that the situation in Mali had “radically changed” between the two men’s mandates. Wane had only been in office since March 2021 when, two months later, the Assimi Goïta-led junta carried out a second coup d’état and fully took over Bamako. This is a major change in the political context, to which Minusma is obliged to constantly adapt.

‘No desire for censorship’

Guillaume Ngefa, director of Minusma’s human rights division, denies these accusations, which he calls “stories. There is no desire for censorship on the part of El Ghassim Wane, with whom I also have an excellent relationship,” he said. Internally, some people also point out that the reports are not always intended to be made public. “Just because we’re doing an investigation doesn’t mean that we necessarily have to publish it,” said one of our sources.

On 5 March, we revealed a report by Minusma’s human rights division which clearly indicated that Fama and Wagner were responsible for the existence of a mass grave discovered in the village of Dangere-Wotoro. This document has still not been published – although a UN source did state that a text detailing the exactions committed against civilians in central Mali should “come out in the coming weeks.”

The question of whether or not to publish sensitive reports is often the subject of debate within UN operations such as Minusma. “It’s a fairly classic pattern,” says a UN official on the continent. “The members of the HD divisions are often committed and want to do their work without hindrance. The heads of mission, on the other hand, play a more diplomatic role and want to preserve their relations with the local authorities.”

As requested by several international partners and member states such as France and the US, Minusma has launched an investigation into the events that took place in Moura. However, investigators from the human rights division have not yet been able to visit the site. This time, the conclusions of their work are expected to be made public.

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