Russia dealt a severe blow to rights protections in Mali on August 30 when it vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution that would have extended sanctions against eight people suspected of sabotaging a peace deal and the work of a panel of experts tracking abuses by armed groups and Malian security forces.
In its last report on August 3, the panel of experts expressed concern “with patterns of conflict-related sexual violence” in Mali’s Mopti and Ménaka regions, “especially those involving the foreign security partners of the Malian Armed Forces.” In previous reports, the panel had denounced grave human rights abuses, including attacks against civilians by Malian forces and the recruitment of children by armed groups.
Human Rights Watch also investigated serious abuses in the country. A July report documented abuses by members of the Malian army and associated foreign fighters apparently from the Russia-linked Wagner Group, including summary executions and enforced disappearances during counterinsurgency operations in central Mali.
The cessation of the panel’s activities could harm efforts toward accountability for conflict-related abuses in a country already marked by shrinking civic space and an increased crackdown on dissent and independent media.
In February, the Malian authorities ordered the head of the human rights section of the UN peacekeeping mission to Mali, the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), to leave the country, accusing him of “subversive actions.” In June, Mali’s foreign minister told the Security Council to withdraw MINUSMA altogether and rejected a UN report accusing Malian troops and Wagner fighters of killing over 500 people during a March 2022 military operation. The mission is set to leave Mali by December 31.
Russia had also previously blocked the Security Council from supporting an Economic Community of West African States decision to impose sanctions on Mali, after Malian military authorities announced they would delay elections until 2026.
As the panel’s work ends and MINUSMA prepares to leave, it is crucial for Malian authorities to continue working with human rights institutions, including the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the UN Human Rights Office, and the UN independent expert on human rights in Mali. In its October session, the African Commission should publicly express concerns on serious violations in Mali and work with Mali’s National Human Rights Commission to gather evidence of serious rights abuses and provide recommendations to ensure rights are protected and abusers are held to account.