UN experts call for investigations into war crimes against Wagner mercenaries

FILE - This undated photo distributed by the French military shows three Russian mercenaries in northern Mali on the right. The Russian Wagner Group, a private military company headed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a rogue millionaire with long-standing ties to Russia's President Vladimir Putin, has played a key role in the fighting in Ukraine and has also sent its personnel to Syria, the Central African Republic, deployed to Libya and Mali. (French Army via AP, file)

Russia’s Wagner Group has played a key role in the fighting in Ukraine and has also deployed its personnel to Syria, the Central African Republic, Libya and Mali (Image: AP)

Researchers say a Russian mercenary group should be investigated for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

A group of UN-appointed independent experts issued a statement earlier this week urging the Malian authorities to launch an investigation into the mass killing of civilians over the past year.

The executions are believed to have been carried out by government forces with the backing of the Wagner Group, a Russia-based private military company run by a key Putin ally.

The panel of experts, which includes members of the UN Working Group on Mercenaries, said Wagner’s operations in Mali were facilitated by “a climate of terror and total impunity”.

They added: “We are particularly concerned by credible reports that, in late March 2022, Malian forces, accompanied by military personnel believed to be members of the Wagner Group, executed several hundred people over the course of several days who were believed to be in Iraq Moura, a village in central Mali.”

These killings were followed by the massacre of at least 13 civilians in the Mopti region last November, allegedly by Russian mercenaries.

The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, a nonprofit project tracking conflicts around the world, has described Wagner’s operations in Mali as “mass atrocities, torture, summary executions, looting, the use of booby traps as a counterinsurgency tactic, and operations in influence the information environment.’

It is widely reported that members of the organization are fighting alongside Russian troops in Ukraine after thousands of convicts were boarded directly from Russian prisons last year.

More recently, the private military contractor has drawn international criticism for reported atrocities in Central African Republic (CAR).

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR), Russian mercenaries in Central African Republic commit “systematic and serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including arbitrary detention, torture, enforced disappearances and summary executions”.

This undated photo, distributed by the French military, shows Russian mercenaries boarding a helicopter in northern Mali. Russia has conducted under-the-radar military operations in at least half a dozen countries in Africa over the past five years, using a shadowy mercenary force that analysts say is loyal to President Vladimir Putin. The analysts say the Wagner group of mercenaries is also key to Putin's ambitions to reassert Russian influence on a global scale. (French Army via AP)

Russian mercenaries board a helicopter in northern Mali. Analysts say the Wagner group is key to Putin’s ambitions to reassert Russian influence on a global scale (Image: AP)

A boy walks past a newly painted mural showing the logo of Russia's Wagner Group, on Thursday January 19, 2023 in Belgrade, Serbia. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

A boy walks past a newly painted mural showing the logo of Russia’s Wagner group in Belgrade, Serbia, on Thursday, January 19, 2023 (Image: AP).


A mural depicting mercenaries from the Russian Wagner Group vandalized with paint on a wall in Belgrade, Serbia on January 13, 2023 (Image: AP)

Further lawsuits against the group also surfaced from Cameroon earlier this week, with testimonies from victims claiming they were trafficked by Wagner mercenaries for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

The Malian government has been fighting jihadist groups in the north and center of the country for many years.

Under Mali’s military regime, counterinsurgency operations were increasingly outsourced to Wagner in a lucrative deal struck in late 2021.

The panel of UN experts also warned that the close relationship between Wagner and the Malian state is likely to have created a fear of reprisals that has prevented victims and advocates in the country from speaking out against the organization’s alleged abuses.

The Wagner Group is part of an expansive network of high-quality companies owned by sanctioned Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin.

After serving a nine-year prison sentence in the 1990s for robbery and fraud, Prigozhin rose from humble beginnings selling hot dogs to a key supporter of the Russian government.

His close ties to the Russian president have earned him the nickname “Putin’s Chef” due to the number of dinners Putin has hosted with foreign dignitaries at various top restaurants owned by Prigozhin.

FILE PHOTO: Yevgeny Prigozhin (L) assists Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin during a dinner with foreign scholars and journalists at the Cheval Blanc restaurant on the grounds of an equestrian complex outside Moscow November 11, 2011. Picture taken November 11. REUTERS/Misha Japaridze /Pool/File Photo/File Photo

Prigozhin, left, assists then-Prime Minister of Russia Vladimir Putin at a dinner with foreign scholars and journalists at the Cheval Blanc restaurant on the grounds of an equestrian complex outside Moscow November 11, 2011 (Image: Reuters)

FILE - Businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, left, shows Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday September 20, 2010 at his factory that makes school meals outside of St. Petersburg, Russia Top military figures and Yevgeny Prigozhin, a rogue millionaire, whose military supplier to the Wagner Group is playing an increasing role in Ukraine. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)

Prigozhin, left, guides Putin through his factory that produces school meals, outside of St. Petersburg, Russia on Monday September 20, 2010 (Image: AP)

In September, the oligarch admitted he founded the Wagner Group in 2014 with the specific aim of supporting Russian forces fighting alongside separatists in Ukraine’s Donbass region.

Then, in November, he also admitted involvement in Russian attempts to sway US elections and warned such operations would continue for the foreseeable future.

Prigozhin, his companies and known business partners are currently facing criminal charges in the United States for their involvement in these activities, with the FBI offering a $250,000 reward for any information leading to the mercenary boss’s arrest.

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https://metro.co.uk/2023/02/04/un-experts-call-for-war-crimes-investigation-into-wagner-mercenaries-18223213/ UN experts call for investigations into war crimes against Wagner mercenaries

Justin Scacco

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