Mar 31, 2021 - World

French airstrike in Mali killed 19 unarmed civilians, UN probe finds

 A peacekeeper by the United Nations patrols outside the mosque in Mopti, central Mali, during the visit of the United Nations General Secretary on May 30, 2018.
A United Nations peacekeeper on patrol in central Mali. Photo: Sebastien Rieussec / AFP via Getty Images

19 of the 22 people killed by a French airstrike at a Mali wedding earlier this year were unarmed civilians who were "protected against attacks under international humanitarian law," a new United Nations report has found.

Why it matters: The findings that only three of those killed were suspected militants contradict France's claims that the targets in the Jan. 3 strike near the village of Bounti, central Mali, were militants — an assertion French officials stood by after the UN report's release Tuesday.

  • The UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali's report recommends that Malian and French authorities conduct "an independent, credible and transparent investigation" into the strike and "possible violations of international humanitarian and human rights law," per a UN statement.
"This strike raises serious concerns about respect for the principles of the conduct of hostilities."
— Excerpt from UN report

What they're saying: France's Defense Ministry insisted in a statement issued in response to the UN that the strike targeted an "armed terrorist group."

  • The ministry accused the UN fact-finding mission of failing to "distinguish credible sources from false testimonies of possible terrorist sympathizers or individuals under the influence of jihadist groups."

For the record: Officials in France have been debating the issue of the country's 5,100-strong troop presence in the West Africa nation, which was under French colonial rule from 1892 until 1960, Bloomberg notes.

  • The airstrike occurred days after five French soldiers were killed in two separate attacks, which were claimed by a branch of Al-Qaeda.
  • French President Emmanuel Macron last month warned against any rapid withdrawal of troops in West Africa's Sahel region amid calls to withdraw forces.
Go deeper