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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Mali

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1996
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Mali, 30 January 1996, available at: [accessed 24 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Mali is a constitutional democracy. The Government is headed by Prime Minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. In the country's first democratic elections in 1992, which were judged to be free and fair by international observers, citizens ratified a new Constitution, elected the National Assembly, and chose President Alpha Oumar Konare as Head of State. These elections completed a 14-month transition following the 1991 overthrow of the Moussa Traore regime. In January, the Government reached an agreement with the majority of Tuareg and Maur rebel groups in the north, ending several years of a rebellion. All parties held to the agreement, and there were no casualties during the year.

Security forces are composed of the Army, Air Force, Gendarmerie, the Republican Guard, and the police. The Army and Air Force are under the control of a civilian Minister of Defense, as are the Gendarmerie and the Republican Guard. The police are under the Ministry of Territorial Administration. There was one report of police brutality during a violent demonstration in October.

Mali is a very poor country. Its economy is based primarily on farming and animal husbandry, making it highly dependent on adequate rainfall for its economic well-being. The Government continues to make progress in implementing reforms aimed at modernizing the economy. Nevertheless, Mali continues to be beset by economic problems, including a poor infrastructure, the lack of an industrial sector, and heavy dependence on foreign assistance. Social ills, including a literacy rate of only 23 percent and a high population growth rate, also contribute to Mali's poverty.

The Government generally respected constitutional provisions for freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, and religion. However, prison conditions are poor, and the judicial system's large case backlog results in long periods of pretrial detention. The executive branch retains influence over the judiciary.

Social and cultural factors continued to sharply limit economic and educational opportunities for most women. Societal violence against women and children, including spousal abuse and female genital mutilation, is widespread.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.

There were no developments in the October 1994 deaths of the Swiss Cooperation Mission director and his two Malian colleagues, killed by an army patrol in Niafunke. A government mission of inquiry into their deaths determined in December 1994 that the patrol's actions were unwarranted and unjustified. However, to date, the Government has neither identified publicly the responsible parties nor made attempts to expedite the case, which is still being reviewed at the regional court in Mopti.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

There was one report of police brutality during a violent demonstration by former government employees in October. Prison conditions continue to be characterized by overcrowding, inadequate medical facilities, and limited food supplies. Several associations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Malian Association of Human Rights, and the Malian Association of Women Jurists visited prisoners in 1995 and are working with women and juvenile prisoners to improve their conditions. Juvenile offenders are usually held in the same prison as adult offenders. Women are housed in the same prison facility as men but live in a separate compound.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution provides that suspects must be charged or released within 48 hours and are entitled to counsel. In practice, however, detainees are not always charged within the 48-hour period. Moreover, administrative backlogs and insufficient lawyers, judges, and courts often cause lengthy delays in bringing people to trial. In extreme cases, individuals have remained several years in prison before coming to trial. Judicial warrants are required for arrest. Local lawyers have estimated that about half of prison inmates are pretrial detainees. There is no incommunicado detention.

Bail does not exist. On occasion the authorities release defendants on their own recognizance.

The Government does not practice forced exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but the executive branch continues to exert considerable influence over the judicial system. The Ministry of Justice appoints judges and supervises both law enforcement and judicial functions, and the President heads the Superior Judicial Council, which oversees judicial activity.

The Supreme Court has both judicial and administrative powers. The Constitution established a separate Constitutional Court which oversees issues of constitutionality and acts as an election arbiter. The Constitution also provides for the convening of a High Court of Justice with the power to try senior government officials in cases of treason.

Except in the case of minors, trials are public, and defendants have the right to be present and to have an attorney of their choice. Defendants are presumed innocent and have the right to confront witnesses and to appeal decisions to the Supreme Court. Court-appointed attorneys are provided for the indigent on a pro bono basis. The majority of disputes in rural areas are decided by the village chief in consultation with the elders. If these decisions are challenged in court, only those found to have legal merit will be upheld.

Women and minorities are not discriminated against in courts, but traditional practice discriminates against women in inheritance matters.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution provides for the inviolability of the home, and the Government respects this right in practice. Police searches are infrequent and require judicial warrants. Security forces do, however, maintain physical and technical surveillance of individuals and groups believed to be threats to internal security, including surveillance of telephone and written correspondence of individuals deemed a threat to national security.

Section 2 Respect for Civil liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, and the Government respects these in practice. There are nearly 50 independent newspapers and journals, in French and local languages, including 2 independent daily newspapers.

The Government controls the only television station, two of many radio stations, and one of the three daily newspapers, but these all operate on a semi-independent basis and present a wide range of views, including those critical of the Government, the President, the Prime Minister, and other politicians.

Seven independent radio stations exist in Bamako and several others operate in regional capitals. French cable television began rebroadcasting operations in September, and the Government has taken initial steps toward private television licensing.

Laws passed in 1993 regulate the press and provide for substantial penalties, including imprisonment, for slander and for public injury to the Head of State, other officials, and foreign diplomats; these laws leave injury undefined and subject to judicial interpretation.

Academic freedom is respected.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government respects them in practice. The Government does not interfere with political meetings, which take place openly.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion and declares Mali to be a secular state. The Government does not discriminate on religious grounds, and citizens are free to practice their faiths. Although legal restrictions on the Baha'i faith still exist, the Government does not enforce them, and Baha'i worship freely. The Minister of Territorial Administration can prohibit religious publications which it concludes defame another religion, but there were no known instances of publications being prohibited.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Constitution provides for these rights and the Government generally respects them in practice. The Government generally does not restrict internal movement, and does not restrict international travel. However, police routinely stop and check both citizens and foreigners, ostensibly to restrict the movement of contraband and to verify vehicle registrations. Some police and gendarmes use the occasion to extort bribes.

There are approximately 13,000 Mauritanian Peuhl refugees settled in Mali. The fighting in the north between government troops and Tuareg rebels between 1990 and January 1995 generated an estimated 120,000 Tuareg and Maur Malian refugees, most of whom fled to Mauritania, Algeria, and Burkina Faso. Mali has signed repatriation accords with these nations and Niger under the auspices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. In September the Government appealed to the international donor community for development, demobilization, and repatriation assistance. By year's end more than 36,000 refugees had returned from these neighboring countries. The Government does not forcibly repatriate refugees.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Citizens have the right to change their government and did so for the first time in 1992, voting by secret ballot in elections which were generally free, fair, and broad-based, despite some irregularities. Twenty-one political parties participated in the elections, and 11 are represented in the National Assembly. The President's party, the Association for Democracy in Mali, holds the majority of the seats in the Assembly.

Under the Constitution, the President is Chief of State and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces and is elected for a term of 5 years with a limit of two terms. The President appoints the Prime Minister.

There are no restrictions on voting, legal or otherwise, for women or minorities. However, women are underrepresented in politics. Only 3 women hold seats in the 116-member National Assembly, and 2 cabinet ministers are women. A third woman, the Secretary for the Promotion of Women, holds ministerial rank. Nomadic peoples, including Fulani and Tuareg, are represented in both the Cabinet and National Assembly. The President of the Assembly is Fulani.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

There are three independent human rights organizations: the Malian Association for Human Rights (AMDH), a smaller Malian League of Human Rights, and a recently established chapter of Amnesty International. All operate openly and without interference from the Government. AMDH criticized the Government's policy toward student protests and its treatment of students who protested (often violently) for larger scholarships. The ICRC has an office in Bamako.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution prohibits discrimination by reason of social origin, color, language, sex, or race, and respects these in practice. However, social and cultural factors give men a dominant role.


Although the Constitution prohibits discrimination based on sex and provides for the basic rights of all persons, violence against women, including wife beating, is tolerated and pervasive.

Women's access to jobs in the professions and government is limited, as are economic and educational opportunities. The Government, the major employer, pays women the same as men for similar work. Women often live under harsh conditions, especially in the rural areas, where they perform hard farm work and do most of the childrearing.

Despite legislation giving women equal rights regarding property, traditional practice and ignorance of the law prevent women from taking full advantage of this reform. There are numerous active women's groups that promote the rights of women and children, and the female head of the Commission for the Promotion of Women enjoys the rank of minister. Women have very limited access to legal services. They are particularly vulnerable in cases of divorce, child custody, and inheritance rights, as well as in general protection of civil rights.


Female genital mutilation (FGM), which is widely condemned by international health experts as damaging to both physical and psychological health, is still common, especially in rural areas, and is performed on girls at an early age. According to an international expert, 75 percent of women have undergone this mutilation. The Government has not proposed legislation prohibiting FGM. However, it supports educational efforts to eliminate the practice through seminars and conferences and provides media access to proponents of its elimination.

Only one in five children receives basic education. There is no constitutional or legal provision to protect the interests and rights of children, and no juvenile court system. However, the Malian Social Services Department investigates and intervenes in cases of reported child abuse or neglect.

People with Disabilities

There is no specific legislation protecting the rights of the physically or mentally disabled, nor mandating accessibility. The Government does not discriminate against the physically disabled in regard to employment, education, and other state services. Given the high unemployment rate, however, the physically disabled are often unable to find work.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution and the Labor Code specifically provide for the freedom of workers to form or join unions and protect freedom of association. Only the military, the gendarmerie, and the Republican Guard are excluded from forming unions. Virtually all salaried employees are organized. Workers have established independent unions for teachers, magistrates, health workers, and senior civil servants, and most are affiliated with the National Union of Malian Workers (UNTM) confederation. The UNTM has maintained its autonomy from the current Government.

The Constitution provides for the right to strike, although there are restrictions in some areas. For example, civil servants and workers in state-owned enterprises must give 2 weeks' notice of a planned strike and must enter into negotiations with the employer and a third party, usually the Ministry of Labor. The Labor Code prohibits retribution against strikers. Most strikes have involved government employees, and the Government made no attempt to retaliate against them. Unions are free to associate with and participate in international bodies.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

True collective bargaining does not take place. The growth of independent unions has led to more direct bargaining between these unions and their employers. Wages and salaries, however, for those workers belonging to the UNTM unions are set by tripartite negotiations between the Ministry of Labor, labor unions, and representatives of the federation of employers of the sector to which the wages apply. These negotiations usually set the pattern for unions outside the UNTM. The Ministry of Labor acts as a mediator in labor disputes.

Neither the Constitution nor the Labor Code addresses the question of antiunion discrimination, but there have been no reports or complaints of antiunion behavior or activities. If the parties cannot come to agreement, the dispute goes to the Labor Court for decision.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor. Reports of de facto slavery persist, especially in the remote salt mining communities of Taoudeni north of Timbuktu. These reports are difficult to verify, and other reports indicate that the members of the Bellah ethnic group who work the mines now receive wages, however meager.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum legal age for employment is 14, but children may work with parental permission as apprentices at age 12. This regulation is often ignored in practice. Moreover, it has no effect on the vast number of children who work in rural areas, helping with family farms and herds, and in the informal sector, e.g., street vending. These children are not protected by laws against unjust compensation, excessive hours, or capricious discharge. The Labor Inspection Service of the Ministry of Labor is responsible for, and reasonably effective in, enforcement of child labor laws, but only in the modern sector.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Labor Code specifies conditions of employment, including hours, wages, and social security, but in practice many employers either ignore or do not comply completely with the regulations. The national minimum wage rate is approximately $40 (cfa 21,000) per month . Workers paid on a daily basis receive a rate of $1.80 (cfa 1,000). Workers must be paid overtime for additional hours. The minimum wage is supplemented by a required package of benefits, including social security and health care benefits. While this total package could provide a minimum standard of living for one person, in practice most wage earners support large extended families and must supplement their income by some subsistence farming or work in the informal sector.

The normal legal workweek is 40 hours, with a requirement for at least one 24-hour rest period. The Social Security Code provides a broad range of legal protections against hazards in the workplace, and workers' groups have brought pressure on employers to respect parts of the regulations, particularly those affecting personal hygiene. With unemployment high, however, workers are often reluctant to report violations of occupational safety regulations. The Labor Inspection Service of the Ministry of Labor oversees these standards but limits enforcement to the modern, formal sector. Workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations and request an investigation by the Social Security Department, which is responsible for recommending remedial action where deemed necessary.

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