Growing international pressure on Mali and Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso ,Mali ,Sahara ,Sahel

Published on Sunday, 28 May 2023 Back to articles

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk

A much-awaited Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) fact-finding report was released on 12 May. It concluded that there are strong indications that more than 500 people were killed — the vast majority summarily executed — by Malian troops who were accompanied by foreign military personnel, almost certainly belonging to the Kremlin-linked Wagner Group, during a five-day military operation in the village of Moura in the central Mopti Region in March 2022.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, said: ‘These are extremely disturbing findings. Summary executions, rape, and torture during armed conflict amount to war crimes and could, depending on the circumstances, amount to crimes against humanity.’

The report is the result of an extensive fact-finding mission conducted over several months by UN staff. Malian authorities denied its requests to access Moura itself so the report is based on: interviews with victims and witnesses; forensic evidence; and other information sources including satellite imagery.

If the United Nations’ report leads to the referral of Mali — or at least its transitional president and army commanders — to the International Criminal Court (ICC), it could have more than a chastening effect on the country’s ruling junta. However, such a move is by no means certain, and there could still be problems of evidence, and especially over the identification of Russia’s Wagner Group mercenaries. 

Although they are preoccupied with Russia’s war against Ukraine, Western countries are becoming increasingly aware of and concerned about the growing presence and activities of Russia — and especially the Wagner Group — not just in Sahelian and West Africa, but the whole continent. If more direct Western action is not taken within the next few months, this situation could become irreversible.

Similarly, unless the Burkinabè authorities facilitate an independent investigation into the allegations that its forces were responsible for killing civilians at Karam, and possibly elsewhere, its junta is likely to come under increasing international pressure and be regarded in the same light as Mali’s junta.

The UN and other international bodies now believe that the Sahel is at a crossroads in that, if the expansion of regional Islamic State linked armed groups is not brought under control and reversed, whole swathes of West Africa could become part of a possible future Islamic Caliphate.

If Niger and Mali cannot cooperate in tackling Islamic extremists in the three borders area, the État Islamique dans le Grand Sahara (EIGS), in particular, will become very difficult to dislodge from this part of the Sahel.

Despite opposition complaints, the first Mauritanian elections in four years have offered rare optimism for improving governance, not just in Mauritania — which, along with Niger, is the region’s one bright light — but possibly also in the wider region.

The apologies and denials of Burkina Faso’s interim president Ibrahim Traoré — over his relations with Russia; lack of press freedoms; and the activities of his armed forces — are beginning to wear increasingly thin. There is still time for a volte face but this will require much more pressure from the dangerously quiet Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and neighbouring countries such as Ghana. 

This excerpt is taken from Sahara Focus, our monthly intelligence report on the Sahara region. Click here to receive a free sample copy.

The May 2023 issues of Sahara Focus also includes the following:

Mauro Massacre

  • OHCHR’s report on Mauro massacre is released
  • Implications

Terrorism activity

  • Burkina Faso’s army responsible for massacre of civilians…


  • UN sees armed groups expanding throughout Sahel


  • 18 June referendum on the Constitution
  • Bamako protesters call for MINUSMA’s withdrawal
  • Algeria and Mali recommit to 2015 Peace Agreement


  • Security: Bazoum tries to revive cooperation with Bamako
  • Savannah Energy signs agreement for new solar projects


  • Chad’s growing vulnerability to war in neighbouring Sudan
  • EU suspends funding following German ambassador’s expulsion
  • Rebel group representatives evicted from N’Djamena hotels


  • Mauritania plans to revive G5 Sahel
  • Opposition parties reject election results
  • Government signs loan agreement to finance water project

Burkina Faso

  • Ibrahim Traoré hails Russia as ‘strategic ally’

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