The March killing of at least 157 people in Ogossagou was “planned, organized and coordinated” and could constitute a crime against humanity, the United Nations mission to Mali said on Thursday, May 2.
The U.N. mission MINUSMA issued a preliminary report after a special team investigated serious human rights abuses committed on March 23 in Ogossagou, near Bankass in the Mopti region near the border with Burkina Faso. The team deployed to the area between March 25 and 29.
MINUSMA concluded that at least 100 armed dozo hunters, accompanied by a dozen men in military clothing and others in civilian attire, conducted the attack on the part of Ogossagou village housing the Fulani ethnic group.
Dozo traditional hunters belong to the Dogon ethnic group, a hunting and farming community with a long history of tension with nomadic Fulani people over access to land.
The Muslim Fulani people have repeatedly called for more protection from the authorities. The government in Bamako has denied their accusations that it turns a blind eye to – or even encourages – Dogon attacks on the Fulani.
MINUSMA said the attack began at around 5 a.m with a confrontation between the dozos and armed Fulani elements, candidates for the “voluntary disarmament” process who had settled in the village and established a self-defense group.
The dozos then advanced through the village indiscriminately killing men, women and children. At least 157 people were killed, including at least 12 members the self-defense group. The majority of victims were shot. During the attack 65 people were injured by gunshots, stabbing and other physical means, and 43 people, including 17 children, were treated in Sévaré hospital.
The U.N. team located at least three mass graves, two containing at least 40 bodies each, and one containing at least 70 bodies.
The dozos also burned at least 220 huts.
“The planned, organized and coordinated attack on the Fulani part of Ogossagou village was in the context of many other similar attacks by groups of traditional hunters,” the release said, noting that the incident was not isolated – in Bankass district alone, more than 37 incidents of human rights abuses that caused the death of at least 115 people have been attributed to these groups since November 2018.
The human rights abuses documented in Ogossagou “could be described as crimes against humanity, if it is shown that this attack was in the context of a systematic or generalized attack against the civilian population,” MINUSMA said.
In March, Mali’s government announced it had replaced senior military officers and dissolved the Dan Nan Ambassagou association, composed of Dogon hunters, in the wake of the Ogossagou massacre.
Then, two weeks after mass protests erupted over the the handling of violence in the center of the country, Mali’s prime minister resigned along with his entire government on April 18.
New Prime Minister Boubou Cissé on May 2 signed an accord with opposition and majority political parties, paving the way for the formation of a new government.
“Given that the opposition and the majority have indicated their readiness for a politically-inclusive government,” they agreed to “the formation of a new government,” a copy of the document seen by AFP said.
Once considered a beacon of democracy and stability in Africa, Mali in recent years has been dogged by a coup, civil war and Islamist terrorism.
The recent unrest in the Sahel began in Mali in 2012 with Tuareg separatist uprising against the state, which was exploited by Islamist extremists linked to al-Qaeda who took key cities in the desert north.
France began its Operation Serval military intervention in its former colony early the next year, driving the jihadists from the towns, but the militant groups morphed into more nimble formations operating in rural areas, sometimes winning over local populations by providing basic services and protection from bandits.
The insurgency has gradually spread to central and southern regions of Mali, and across the borders into neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.
Large swathes of the country remain outside government control, despite the 2015 peace accord designed to isolate the Islamists.
The French mission evolved in August 2014 into the current Operation Barkhane, which has 4,500 troops personnel deployed with a mandate for counter-terrorism operations across the Sahel region, with 2,700 soldiers in Mali to support poorly-equipped local military forces.
Troops deployed to Barkhane work alongside other international operations, including the U.N. Minusma stabilization mission in Mali, which began in 2013 and has about 12,000 troops and 1,750 police deployed, as well as the regional G5 Sahel joint counter-terrorism force that aims to train and deploy up to 5,000 personnel.
With reporting from AFP