French air strike in January killed 19 unarmed civilians in Mali, says UN report

A probe by the UN mission in Mali concluded that French airplanes attacked a wedding party in a village named Bounti on January 3, killing 22 men, only three of whom were armed

March 31, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
French airstrike in Mali
French airstrikes. (Photo: French Ministry of Defense)

A UN probe concluded on Tuesday, March 30 that a French drone strike on a wedding party in Mali was responsible for the death of 19 unarmed civilians in January. The probe was conducted by the United Nation mission in Mali (MINUSMA) after France claimed that the people killed were “armed rebels” affiliated to a terrorist group and not part of a wedding party.

The probe based on interviews with hundreds of people concluded that the French airplanes had attacked a wedding party in a village named Bounti on January 3, killing 22 men, only three of whom were armed. The armed men are believed to be affiliated to Katiba Serma with alleged links to al-Qaeda. 

According to the report, there were over 100 people present in the wedding party, the overwhelming majority of whom were civilians “who are protected persons under international humanitarian law.” The attack violated the accepted principles of conduct of hostilities by France, the report stated. 

The French military had claimed that it had killed about 30 “rebel fighters” in the strike on January 3. It had denied that the target was a wedding party but called it a gathering of rebel fighters. This had led to the investigation by MINUSMA. 

In a similar airstrike on March 25, the French air force killed six civilians in northern Mali.  

Mali – a west African country with a population of over 20 million – is going through another round of political unrest with the military often intervening in the governance of the country.  

France, Mali’s ex-colonial master, has deployed thousands of its troops (over 5,000) in Mali and neighboring countries – the region known as Sahel – since 2013 after a movement for the liberation of northern provinces broke out in the Tuareg region. A separate rebellion started in 2015 in the central parts of the country. 

The French claim that these rebellions are waged by armed terrorist groups affiliated to al-Qaeda. However, local villagers dispute the claim and argue that the rebellion is a result of years of neglect by the central governments in Mali, who only catered to the imperialist interests of France and other colonial powers interested in the natural resources of the country.   

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