The U.N. secretary-general has called for Mali and its "bilateral partners" to respect their international obligations as concerns grow over human rights violations by the West African country's military in its battle with jihadists.
While acknowledging "widespread attacks by extremists," Antonio Guterres told the U.N. Security Council that Mali's counter-terrorism efforts also had "disastrous consequences for the civilian population" in a confidential report obtained Thursday by AFP.
"I emphasize the duty of the State to do everything in its power to promote accountability and ensure that its military operations, including those carried out with its bilateral partners, are carried out in accordance with its international obligations," the U.N. chief said.
The term "bilateral partners" is believed to be an implicit reference to mercenaries allegedly deployed in the country by the Russian Wagner Group, reputedly close to the Kremlin.
"Some of the operations carried out by the national security forces to counter the violent activities of these extremist groups -- apparently alongside foreign security personnel -- have been the subject of allegations of serious human rights violations," Guterres said.
The secretary-general's report specifically cites the late-January execution of "at least 20 people" in the country's Bandiagara region, and civilian deaths attributed to a February airstrike carried out by the military.
His report is the first submitted to the Security Council since a mid-February announcement that French and European military missions previously assisting in Mali's years-long fight with a bloody jihadist insurgency were being withdrawn.
The Malian government has denied using Wagner mercenaries, admitting only to the presence of Russian "instructors" under a bilateral cooperation agreement concluded with Moscow that saw two combat helicopters delivered on Thursday.