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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Mali

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Mali, 30 January 1995, available at: [accessed 25 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 has a constitutional Government 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 and elected the National Assembly and President Alpha Oumar Konare as Head of State. These elections completed a 14-month transition following the 1991 overthrow of the Moussa Traore regime.

Violent student demonstrations flared up in February against government restrictions on financial aid, the same issue that had forced the resignation of the Third Republic's first government in 1993. However, the Government and the students largely resolved their differences, and the school year began normally. In June Tuareg and Maur bandits and rebels in the North increased their attacks on civilian targets, leading to military, self-defense, and vigilante group reprisals; an estimated 300 people, mostly civilians, were killed. Much of the Tuareg and Maur population fled to neighboring countries.

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 is a lack of discipline among the security forces' enlisted personnel, and elements of the security forces and vigilante groups committed extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations in Mali's northern regions during reprisal raids against Tuareg and Maur bandit groups.

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 implement reforms aimed at modernizing the economy. Nevertheless, Mali continues to be beset by economic problems, including a depressed economy, inadequate government revenues, dependence on international donors, demands from a number of vocal special interest groups, and a literacy rate of about 23 percent.

The Government generally respected constitutional provisions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association and religion. However, elements of the security forces committed an undetermined number of extrajudicial killings of Tuaregs and Maurs in June, July, and August. The judicial system continues to be plagued by a large backlog of cases, which results in persons languishing in prison for long periods of time. Social and cultural factors continued to sharply limit economic and educational opportunities for most women. Societal violence against women, including spouse abuse and female genital mutilation, is widespread.


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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of targeted political killings. A resurgence of Tuareg and Maur bandit/rebel attacks in Mali's northern regions in June, July, and August initiated a cycle of attacks and reprisals, leading to the deaths of as many as 300 people, mostly civilians. In reprisal actions, elements of the security forces were responsible for an undetermined number of these extrajudicial killings. According to credible reports, armed groups of Tuaregs and Maurs and self-defense/vigilante groups, organized by the black sedentary populations, also committed extrajudicial killings.

On April 21, in a reprisal attack against Tuaregs and Maurs in Menaka, the military killed 4 people and wounded 12. A military inquiry resulted only in the transfer of a number of military personnel to other camps, but there were no charges, trials, or convictions. In June and July, security forces and self-defense/vigilante groups in the Timbuktu region killed as many as 50 Tuaregs and Maurs, including the director of the Islamic/Arabic Study and Documentation Center located in Timbuktu.

On July 25 rebels attacked the town of Bamba and killed an estimated 40 civilians. Some reports placed the casualty figure over 100. The 1992 National Pact ended the official insurrection in the north, but bandit attacks continued sporadically. The Government and four major rebel groups still recognize the Pact, but do not implement its provisions.

On October 4, a four-person military patrol shot and killed the Swiss Cooperation Mission director and two Malian colleagues in the town of Niafunke, allegedly because the mission was aiding Tuareg rebels. A government mission of inquiry into the killings determined that the patrol's actions were unwarranted and unjustified. By year's end, the Government had not identified publicly the responsible parties, nor set in motion judicial proceedings.

On October 20, a large group of rebels attacked the town of Ansongo in the southeastern corner of Mali, killing approximately six persons, including the head of the military detachment and several civilians. On October 22, Tuaregs and Maurs attacked civilian and other targets in the city of Gao, killing approximately 14 persons and wounding 17. The Government condemned such acts by all parties but appeared to have little control over some security elements in the north. Although the National Pact calls for a Commission of Inquiry, the Government did nothing to create one.

b. Disappearance

There were credible but unconfirmed reports of disappearance, related to the escalation of violence in the north, which implicated elements of the security forces, Tuareg and Maur armed groups, and, possibly, self-defense groups organized by the black sedentary populations. Despite government condemnation, authorities made no inquiries, no arrests, and no prosecutions.

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

Prison conditions continue to be characterized by overcrowding, inadequate medical facilities, and limited food supplies. Several associations 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 languish several years in prison before coming to trial.

Bail does not exist. On rare occasions the authorities release defendants on their own recognizance. The Government released 18 former members of the overthrown Moussa Traore regime who faced charges of economic crimes against the State. A court found the former president and three former government officials to be responsible for the deaths of over 100 people during the demonstrations that led to Traore's overthrow, and the court sentenced the four to death in 1993. Although the Supreme Court denied their subsequent appeal, the President could still commute their sentences. Commandant Lamine Diabira, arrested by the Government in 1991 for plotting to overthrow the then-transitional Government, was finally released in July for lack of evidence.

The Government does not practice forced exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but the executive branch exerts 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 supervises judicial activity. The Supreme Court has both judicial and administrative powers. The Constitution provides for a separate Constitutional Court and 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 Mali are handled at the village level and are generally 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.

There are no political prisoners in Mali.

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 surveillance of individuals and groups believed to be threats to internal security; with court approval, police may maintain technical surveillance as well. There were no instances of forced resettlement.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press. 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 are open to a wide range of views, including those critical of the President, the Prime Minister, the Government, and other politicians. Apart from the two Government radio stations in Bamako and several government stations serving regional capitals, there are seven independent stations in Bamako and many other independent regional stations. The Government has promulgated the decrees necessary for the operation of private television in Mali, and a number of frequencies have been set aside for this use. All that remains is for the Government to set licensing fees and to distribute the frequencies. Four or five groups are already licensed to begin broadcasting, and at least one is in the process of setting up its antenna tower.

There are nearly 50 independent newspapers and journals, in French and local languages, including two independent daily papers. The Government does not interfere with political meetings, which take place openly.

Although 1993 laws regulating the press provide for substantial penalties, including imprisonment, for slander and for public injury to the Head of State, other officials, and foreign diplomats, the law leaves injury undefined and subject to judicial interpretation.

On November 23, the Government arrested Sambi Toure, the editor in chief of the antigovernment daily Nouvel Horizon, on charges of publishing false information which threatened national security and the integrity of the defense forces. Mr. Toure was released after 10 days on his own recognizance and in a trial in late December was acquitted of all charges.

In a 1993 case in which the President of the Supreme Court sued a newspaper publisher for slander, the court found the publisher guilty but levied only a symbolic fine of 1 CFA franc.

Academic freedom is respected.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for the rights of assembly and association. The Government routinely grants permits for mass demonstrations. There are dozens of political parties and hundreds of professional and special interest associations. The Constitution forbids the formation of political parties based on religion, region, or ethnicity. The Ministry of Territorial Administration approves the charter of all political parties. The banned party of Moussa Traore, the Democratic Union of the Malian People (UDPM), operates openly, although it is still not officially recognized by the Government.

c. Freedom of Religion

Mali is 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 Constitution prohibits discrimination by reason of social origin, color, language, sex, religion, or race. The Minister of Territorial Administration prohibits religious publications which it concludes defame another religion. There were no known instances of publications being prohibited.

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

The Government generally does not restrict internal freedom of movement, although 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. The practice of the police accepting small gifts for overlooking infractions, real or imagined, is common and has a long tradition.

There are approximately 13,000 Mauritanian Peuhl refugees settled in Mali. The fighting in the north between government troops and Tuareg rebels has generated an estimated 100,000 to 120,000 Tuareg and Maur refugees, most of whom fled to Mauritania, Algeria, and Burkina Faso. Although Mali has signed repatriation accords with all three nations under the auspices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, it has not implemented them. 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. In the elections, 21 political parties participated; 11 are represented in the National Assembly. The President's party, the Association for Democracy in Mali, holds the majority. Nomadic peoples are represented--including Fulani (the President of the Assembly) and Tuareg. Tuaregs are, of course, also represented in Government.

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.

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. There are no restrictions on voting, legal or otherwise, for women or minorities.

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 government policy toward student protests and treatment of students protesting (often violently) for larger scholarships.

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


The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on sex and provides for the basic rights of all persons. The Government respects these rights in practice, but social and cultural factors give men a dominant role. 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. Violence against women, including wife beating, is tolerated and pervasive.


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. Only one in five children receives basic education.

Female genital mutilation (FGM), 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. It supports educational efforts to eliminate the practice through seminars and conferences and provides media access to proponents of its elimination.

People with Disabilities

There is no specific legislation protecting the rights of the physically disabled or mentally handicapped, nor mandating accessibility. The physically disabled are not discriminated against in access 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. An unofficial union of noncommissioned officers struck for 3 days; the Government took no punitive action taken against it or its members. The police also formed a union, affiliated with the National Union of Malian Workers (UNTM) Confederation. Virtually all salaried employees are organized. Workers have established independent unions for teachers, magistrates, health workers, and senior civil servants. 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 service 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. Workers receive no pay for the time they are on strike. The Labor Code prohibits retribution against strikers. Most strikes have involved government employees, and the Government made no attempt to retaliate. 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. However, reports of de facto slavery persist, especially in the extremely remote salt mining communities north of Timbuktu.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum legal age for employment is 14, but children may work with parents' 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 per month (21,000 CFA francs). Workers paid on a daily basis receive a rate of $1.80 (1,000 CFA francs). 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. 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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