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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Mali

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Mali, 30 January 1994, available at: [accessed 28 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 President Alpha Konare. After the overthrow of the Moussa Traore regime in March 1991, the country went through a 14-month transition period during which Mali held its first democratic national elections. In a series of six direct elections between January and April 1992, Malians ratified a new Constitution, elected municipal councilors, National Assembly deputies, and, finally, a President. Twenty-one political parties nationwide participated in elections, judged by international observers to be free and fair.

There was a gradual normalization of the security situation following the signing of the National Pact in April 1992, a major truce agreement, which ended the insurgency in the north involving varied Tuareg and Maur groups, ranging from politically motivated persons seeking an autonomous Tuareg state to those engaged in simple banditry. The improved security situation relieved some domestic pressure but allowed other problems to come to the fore. Violent student demonstrations over government efforts to restrict scholarships in April forced the resignation of the first government of the Third Republic. The President, in a bid to develop a consensual approach to the nation's problems, incorporated several former opposition political parties into the second Government, headed by Prime Minister Abdoulaye Sekou Sow.

Mali's military and security forces number some 7,000 and are divided between 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. The Gendarmerie and Republican Guard are also part of the defense structure but are assigned, for operational purposes, along with the police, to the Ministry of Territorial Administration. This was done in an attempt to provide a more concerted and better organized force in the face of rising civil disturbances. With the end of the Tuareg rebellion, there were few reports of abuses by the military and security forces, who remain supportive of the young democracy.

Mali continues to be beset by a myriad of economic problems including a sagging economy, a national debt roughly equal to its gross domestic product, dependence on international donors, inadequate government revenues, demands from a number of vocal special interest groups, and a literacy rate of only 23 percent. Its annual per capita gross national product is approximately $300. Mali's economy is based primarily on subsistence farming and animal husbandry, making it highly dependent on adequate rainfall for its economic well-being. The Government, at the senior levels, continues to be committed to implementing reforms aimed at modernizing the economy through fiscal and regulatory reforms.

The Government respected constitutional provisions on freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, and religion, and, with the signing of the National Pact and the end of the Tuareg rebellion, there were no new extrajudicial killings committed by the security forces. Nevertheless, there were human rights abuses, notably in the Government's inability to process the large backlog of judicial cases in accordance with the law. This has resulted in persons languishing in prison for several years awaiting trial. Social and cultural factors continued to sharply limit economic and educational opportunities for most women.


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 and no credible reports of extrajudicial killings on the part of security forces. The signing of the National Pact in 1992 with the Tuareg rebels, the formation of mixed patrols, and the integration of 600 former Tuareg rebels into the armed forces in the north brought an end to most organized insurgency in region. However, the Commission of Inquiry that was to have been established to investigate all deaths on both sides of the conflict had not been created by year's end.

b. Disappearance

There have been no incidents of abduction or disappearances attributable to government or opposition forces.

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

The Constitution states that no one will be subjected to torture and cruel, inhuman, degrading, or humiliating treatment. There were no known reports, including in the media, of police or military beating of detainees.

Prison conditions are still characterized by overcrowding, inadequate medical facilities, and limited food supplies. The Government is seeking foreign assistance to help improve the situation, and several associations are working with women and juvenile prisoners to improve their conditions. Juvenile offenders are generally held in the same prison as adult offenders. Women are housed in the same prison as men but live in a separate compound. During past prison riots, male inmates have attacked and raped female inmates.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution has expanded the rights of arrested persons. Arrested persons must be charged or released within 48 hours, and they are entitled to counsel. In practice, detainees are not always charged within the 48-hour period, and administrative backlogs as well as insufficient numbers of lawyers, judges, and courts often cause lengthy delays in bringing people to trial. In extreme cases, individuals can languish several years in prison before coming to trial.

The law does not provide for release on bail, but detainees are sometimes released on their own recognizance. In October the court released on their own recognizance six former government and party officials from the Moussa Traore regime, awaiting trial for economic crimes against the State (see Section 1.e.).

In July 1991, the Government arrested Commandant Lamine Diabira and several other military personnel for plotting to overthrow the then transitional government. At year's end, Diabira had still not been charged with a crime and remained in custody. Meanwhile, the Government has released his accused coconspirators. In response to diplomatic inquiries, the Ministries of Justice and Human Rights insisted that the Government was not technically in violation of the law, although the authorities failed to clarify the legal ground for the continued imprisonment of Diabira without trial.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for the independence of the judiciary. However, the executive branch has considerable influence on the judicial system: The Ministry of Justice appoints judges and supervises both law enforcement and judicial functions, and the Superior Judicial Council, which supervises judicial activity, is headed by the President. The Supreme Court has both judicial and administrative powers. The Constitution established 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 appeal decisions to the Supreme Court. Court-appointed attorneys are provided for the indigent.

Following the overthrow of Moussa Traore in 1991, the new government arrested him, his family, and about two dozen members of his government and political party and charged them with various crimes. 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 sentenced the four to death in 1993. Although the Supreme Court denied their subsequent appeal, the President could still commute their sentences. These 4 men and 17 others, including the former president's wife, son, and brother-in-law, face additional charges for economic crimes against the State.

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

Inviolability of the home is provided for in the Constitution and is respected in practice. Police searches are infrequent, and warrants, issued by judges, are required. The security forces maintain physical surveillance of individuals and groups suspected or known to be a threat to internal security, and, with court approval, may maintain technical surveillance as well.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and press. The Government controls the only television station, one radio station, and the only daily newspaper, 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 Government, and other politicians. Apart from the government radio chain, there are seven independent stations in Bamako and another six independent regional stations. In spite of only a 23-percent literacy rate, there are nearly 50 independent newspapers and journals. Political meetings take place openly and without interference.

The National Assembly passed new laws regulating the press. These laws provide substantial penalties, including imprisonment, for slander and for public injury to the Head of State and other officials, including foreign diplomats. Such injury is not defined in the law and therefore is subject to judicial interpretation. In a case currently under way, the President of the Supreme Court is suing the publisher of two weekly newspapers for slanderous comments.

Following complaints from journalists' organizations, the Government asked the National Assembly to review all press laws, particularly those on the composition of the proposed National Press Council that will be responsible for enforcing press regulations. No results were available at year's end.

Academic freedom is respected.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution protects the right of assembly and association. Permits must be obtained for mass demonstrations, and these are routinely granted. However, in Bamako in April, students did not obtain a permit, and their demonstrations protesting reductions in scholarships turned violent, leading to destruction of property.

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, and political parties must have their charters approved by the Ministry of Territorial Administration. Following the former President's overthrow, the transitional government banned the party of Moussa Traore, the Democratic Union of the Malian People (UDPM). The UDPM applied in 1993 for recognition, but the Government denied the application on a technicality. This action engendered much public debate and criticism, and the UDPM planned to appeal the Government's decision.

c. Freedom of Religion

Mali is a secular state. The Government does not discriminate on religious grounds. Although 90-95 percent of the population are Muslim, members of other religions freely practice their faiths and are permitted to establish houses of worship and schools. Christian missionaries of various denominations, including foreign missionaries, operate freely. Proselytizing and conversion are permitted. The Government prohibits publications in which one religious group defames another; the Minister of Territorial Administration determines whether a publication is defamatory.

In October the Ministry of Territorial Administration canceled the visa of a Protestant German evangelist who had been planning to hold a number of revival meetings in Bamako later that month. The official reason for the cancellation was fear of civil unrest as the evangelist's visit to Nigeria in 1991 had led to large-scale riots. However, it was widely assumed that the Government canceled the visa as a result of pressure from local Islamic organizations and associations. The press was critical of the Government's decision, calling it a violation of the Constitution.

Administrative orders promulgated in 1977 prohibiting members of the Baha'i faith from meeting in groups of more than three people are not enforced, and Baha'i practice their faith without interference.

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

Freedom of movement is generally unrestricted although police checks occur in which Malians and foreigners are stopped, particularly at night. These checks are ostensibly used to restrict the movement of contraband goods and to verify vehicle registrations, but some police and gendarmes use the occasion to extort bribes. An exit visa is no longer needed.

In recent years, Mali has both accepted and generated displaced persons. Approximately 13,000 Mauritanian Peuhl refugees, who fled strife in their country in 1990, settled in Mali. For the most part, they have been absorbed into the local economy.

The fighting in the north between government troops and Tuareg rebels generated an estimated 100,000 Tuareg and Maur refugees, most of whom fled to Mauritania, Algeria, and Burkina Faso. With the improved security situation in the three northern regions, the flow of Malian refugees declined, and the Government, together with its neighbors and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), planned to repatriate Malians refugees in those countries. However, at year's end, only a few families had returned.

Initial reports of an incident on December 12 indicate that an army patrol killed three Tuareg refugees returning from Mauritania. The patrol contends that the three were bandits killed in a fire fight as the patrol attempted to apprehend them following an earlier attack on a transport convoy. The Office of the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces and senior representatives of the rebel movement formed a joint commission to investigate the incident but had not released a report by the end of the year.

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

In 1992 Malians for the first time exercised their right to change their government through peaceful means, electing a new President and a new multiparty National Assembly.

The Third Republic is a multiparty democracy, based on the Constitution drawn up at the August 1991 National Conference and ratified in the January 1992 referendum. 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 a Prime Minister, who is Head of Government. The National Assembly consists of 116 members, and representation is apportioned according to the population of administrative districts. Election is both direct and by party list. The Constitution provides for a separation of executive, legislative, and judicial powers and for control of the military by the President.

Twenty-one political parties nationwide participated in the municipal, legislative, and presidential elections held between February and April 1992. The parties campaigned freely and had broad access to the state-owned media. Citizen participation in the elections was low but was fairly evenly distributed across most regions, ethnic groups, and between men and women. Balloting was secret.

Although there were complaints about some irregularities, all parties accepted the outcome. President Alpha Oumar Konare won 60 percent of the vote in the second round of presidential balloting. Konare's party, the Association for Democracy in Mali, also won the majority of seats in the National Assembly in which 10 other parties are represented. The National Assembly is still a young institution. Most legislation originates in the Government and its ministries and is approved by the Assembly, but debate on key issues is vigorous.

Women are poorly represented in the political process. There are 2 female deputies in the 116-member National Assembly and 1 female minister in the Cabinet. A second woman, the Secretary for the Promotion of Women, holds ministerial rank.

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

There are two independent human rights organizations: The Malian Association for Human Rights (AMDH), and the smaller Malian League of Human Rights. Neither organization has been active in highlighting human rights abuses since the installation of democracy in Mali.

In April the Government established a Ministry of Human Rights separate from the Ministry of Justice, but by year's end the Human Rights Ministry had been folded into the Ministry of Justice.

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


The Constitution affirms that there shall be no discrimination based on sex, but social and cultural factors give men a dominant role. While there are a number of women in the professions and government, economic and educational opportunities for women remain limited. Women often live under harsh conditions, especially in the rural areas, where they perform much of the hard farm labor and most of the child-rearing.

A 1991 United Nations report indicated that females receive only 29 percent of the schooling of males (in terms of average number of years of schooling). Only 20 percent of children have access to basic education. The Government, with help from international donors and private voluntary organizations, is working to persuade the public of the need for increased female education, but limited financial resources, social and cultural factors, and the harsh demands of daily life keep females from participating to the same extent as their male counterparts.

Despite legislation passed giving women equal rights regarding property, traditional practice and ignorance of the law prevent women from taking advantage of this reform. There are some active women's groups that promote the rights of women and children.

Violence against women, including wife beating, is accepted and pervasive. The society generally does not tolerate spousal abuse that results in physical injury and deals with the problem informally at the village or family level. Legal action for redress of injury in such cases is not normally available, although severe physical injury is grounds for divorce.


There is no constitutional or legal provision to protect the interests and rights of children, but the Constitution provides for basic human rights for all persons. The Malian Social Services Department investigates and intervenes in cases of reported child abuse or neglect. The Government's resources are insufficient to meet the basic health care and education needs of Malian children.

Female genital mutilation (circumcision) is widely condemned by international health experts as damaging to both physical and psychological health. It is still common in Mali, especially in rural areas, and is performed at an early age on females. The Government has not proposed legislation prohibiting female circumcision, but it supports educational efforts to eliminate the practice through seminars and conferences. It also provides media access to women's groups and others who are attempting to end female genital mutilation. According to an international expert, 75 percent of the females in Mali have undergone this mutilation.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Virtually all ethnic and language groups are represented at all levels of government and society and suffer little discrimination. The nomadic populations, however, are not completely integrated into the economic and political mainstream, and they resent being politically dominated by other more numerous ethnic groups. Economic life in the three northern regions was significantly disrupted during the recent rebellion, but the National Pact, signed in April 1992, makes provisions for the social and economic reintegration of the displaced populations and for a much greater degree of political autonomy. Resource limitations have hindered implementation of the Pact's provisions.

People with Disabilities

There is no specific legislation protecting the rights of the physically disabled or mentally handicapped, including on accessibility. The physically disabled are not discriminated against in access to employment, education, and other state services. Given the high unemployment rates, 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 in Mali are organized.

Under the old constitution, labor unions had to belong to one confederation, the National Union of Malian Workers (UNTM). While most unions are still part of the UNTM and while no new confederations have yet formed, some unions have withdrawn from the UNTM, and new unions tend to remain outside the UNTM. Workers have established independent unions for teachers, magistrates, and health workers. The UNTM, for its part, was a leading force in the overthrow of the previous regime and has maintained its autonomy from the current Government.

The Constitution provides for the right to strike, and although there are some limiting conditions, these are not especially restrictive. There were several strikes, notably among civil servants in the education and health sectors, over salary issues and working conditions. They were legal and did not involve violence. The strike actions were generally resolved by negotiations between the labor unions, management, and the Government. Workers 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 does prevent retribution against strikers. Most strikes have involved government employees, and there has been no attempt on the part of the Government to retaliate.

Unions in Mali 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. Wages and salaries 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 for which the wages are being set. 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, the Bela are traditional slaves of Maurs and Tuaregs in Northern Mali, and some de facto slavery probably still exists, 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 with parents' permission children may be apprenticed at age 12. This regulation is often ignored in practice and 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., in street vending. They are not protected by laws against unjust compensation, excessive hours, and capricious discharge. The Labor Inspection Service of the Ministry of Labor is responsible for, and reasonably effective in, enforcement of child labor laws in the modern sector only.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Labor Code specifies conditions of employment, including hours, wages, and social security. The national minimum wage rate is $70 per month (20,000 CFA francs) effective as of 1991. Workers paid on a daily basis receive a rate of $2.65 (750 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 protection 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 enforcement is limited to the modern, formal sector due to the lack of inspectors. 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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