Rights activists urge France to conduct probe into possible war crime in Mali
Human rights activists have called on France to open an investigation into a January 3 airstrike on central Mali after a United Nations probe confirmed that the aerial attack had resulted in at least 19 civilian deaths.
The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (Minusma) said in a report that the strike, conducted by Reaper drones, hit a wedding party in the village of Bounti attended by more than 100 guests, disputing claims by French officials that the target of the raid was an "armed terrorist group".
Hours before the report was released, France refused to accept the probe’s findings, sparking outrage among human rights activists who have intensified calls for accountability.
"It is not a luxury to launch an investigation into an incident where there are massive civilian casualties," Jonathan Pedneault, a conflict and crisis researcher at Human Rights Watch said on Thursday.
"This new UN report simply highlights the very important need for France to open a judicial investigation into this incident; interview all the people who were in the chain of command and have a proper understanding of what was known at the time of attack in terms of the nature of the gathering in terms of the presence of legal targets, ie: members of the Katiba, and evaluate whether the necessary precautions were taken before the strike was called," he said.
"The only way to do that is launch an actual investigation to determine a) if there was indeed war crimes and b) to then establish the responsibilities and hold those people accountable."
‘French position clearly unfounded’
Ousmane Diallo, a researcher with Amnesty International in West and Central Africa, said France's version of accounts was "not holding water" given its failure to present any evidence.
"The French position that there was no wedding, no civilian casualties and no collateral damage, is clearly unfounded," Diallo said.
"And it is clear they did not use the principle of precaution, necessity and proportionality when assessing if the gathering was a military objective."
The UN report came just days after local officials said a French air raid had claimed the lives of six civilians in northern Mali, including teenagers who were hunting. The French military immediately rejected those claims, too.
Diallo said that the immediate rejection of the UN report was "emblematic of the French military response to all allegations against them, regarding their impact on their activities on civilians".