French Raid in Mali May Have Violated Humanitarian Law, UN Says

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A French air strike that killed 22 people allegedly attending a wedding in Mali earlier this year could constitute a violation of international humanitarian law, the United Nations said.

The Jan. 3 raid near the village of Bounti in the central Mopti region led to the deaths of 19 civilians and three suspected members of an armed group, the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali said on Tuesday following an investigation .

“This is not a conclusive report. It calls for a more in-depth investigation,” said Stéphane Dujarric, a UN spokesman, according to a transcript of a daily briefing. “What the authors of the report found raises a lot of questions and concerns.”

France’s Defense Ministry said it had reservations about the report that failed to “distinguish credible sources from false testimonies of possible terrorist sympathizers or individuals under the influence of jihadist groups.” The strike targeted an “armed terrorist group,” it said in a statement published on its website.

The report comes as France is debating its military presence in Mali. The air raid near Bounti was conducted a few days after militants killed five French soldiers in two separate attacks in the area. It came two weeks after a UN investigation documented two separate raids by French forces in 2013 and 2018 in which civilians had been killed during operations targeting armed groups.

Presidential caution

Last month, French President Emmanuel Macron cautioned against a rapid withdrawal of the 5,100-strong force fighting militants in West Africa’s Sahel region despite pressure in France to scale back its presence.

The raid near Bounti sparked debate in Mali, with local officials and some non-governmental organizations saying that civilians attending a wedding party had been killed. The UN said it had confirmed “a wedding celebration, which brought together around 100 civilians at the site of the strike”.

France’s army chief of staff said on Jan. 7 that there was no evidence of a festive gathering at the time of the raid and that it didn’t cause “collateral damage.”

The UN probe raises concern of “an unlawfully disproportionate attack”, Human Rights Watch West Africa director Corinne Dufka, said in a Twitter post.

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