On Tuesday, following the publication of the U.N. report, the French military launched an attack of another sort: on the report and its methodology, including its use of unnamed sources.
“The only concrete sources on which this report is based come from local testimonies,” the French Defense Ministry said in a statement. It asserted that the report did not “provide any evidence contradicting the facts as described by the French armed forces.”
The French reaction did little too ease the outrage.
Ousmane Diallo, an Amnesty International researcher in Francophone West Africa, described France’s reaction as shocking. “Talking about disinformation, as people mourn their dead,” he wrote on Twitter.
At the very least, critics said, the French Army should try harder to establish what happened.
“It’s more than enough to spur the French government to revisit their original assertion and to open up an investigation,” said Corinne Dufka, the West Africa director of Human Rights Watch.
Asked for his reaction to the French criticism of the report, Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for the U.N. secretary general, António Guterres, told reporters that “we stand by the report and the work of our colleagues in Mali.”
The findings, Mr. Dujarric said, raise “very significant concerns” about what steps countries take to verify that targets are legitimate military objectives.
France’s war on Islamists in the Sahel — a vast arid region south of the Sahara — has dragged on for years with no end in sight. Just last week, French troops were accused of killing more civilians, this time in northern Mali. France said they were terrorists; a local mayor said they were teenagers hunting birds.