A United Nations investigation has concluded that an air strike by the French army in Mali in January killed 19 civilians gathered for a wedding, not just terrorists, as Paris had previously claimed.
The overwhelming majority of the Malian population has been mobilising for some time for the departure of France, whose peacekeeping and counter-terrorism operation they consider a failure on their territory. According to a report by the UN Mission in Mali, 19 civilians gathered for a wedding died in an air strike by the French army targeting terrorists in January near Bounti, in the centre of the country. France denies any wrongdoing and has « reservations » about the investigation.
At the end of the investigation conducted by the Human Rights Division of the UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), supported by the UN forensic team, on the events of 3 January near Bounti, in the centre of the country, MINUSMA « is able to confirm the holding of a wedding celebration which brought together at the site of the strike about a hundred civilians among whom were five armed persons, presumed members of the Katiba Serma, » says the summary of the report, consulted by AFP. The « Katiba Serma » is affiliated with the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (GSIM, or JNIM in Arabic), a terrorist alliance itself affiliated with al-Qaeda.
In response to these conclusions, the French Ministry of the Armed Forces strongly reaffirmed that « on 3 January, the French armed forces carried out an air strike targeting an armed terrorist group identified as such » near Bounti. It « has many reservations about the methodology used » and « cannot consider that this report provides any evidence contradicting the facts as described by the French armed forces ».
« At least 22 people were killed in this strike, including three presumed members of the « Katiba Serma » 19 on the spot, and three during their evacuation, » the MINUSMA document states, adding that the group affected « was overwhelmingly composed of civilians, who are persons protected from attack under international humanitarian law. The French authorities have always maintained that there was no wedding, that intelligence had « formally » established that it was a gathering of terrorists and that the intervention of a patrol of French planes dropping three bombs had « neutralised » some thirty terrorists.
For the United Nations, however, the report « raises very significant concerns about the conduct of hostilities, » said Antonio Guterres’ spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, in response to a question about the UN secretary-general’s reaction. These concerns also include « the obligation of Member States to do everything possible to verify that the targets are indeed military objectives, » the spokesman added.