Skip to main content

Mr. Ibrahim Boubacar Keita
Republic of Mali

Re: Addressing human rights issues in your presidency

Dear President-Elect Keita

Human Rights Watch is an independent international organization that monitors and reports on human rights in some 90 countries around the world. We write to both congratulate you on your election and upcoming inauguration as president of Mali, and urge you to take prompt, concrete and meaningful steps to address the pressing human rights and governance challenges you have inherited.

As you know, the problems Mali faces include a culture of impunity, weak rule of law, endemic corruption, indiscipline within the security services, ethnic tension, and crushing poverty. Indeed, Mali’s recent crisis is rooted in years of deterioration in the key institutions responsible for the rule of law.

Mali’s leaders and the international community largely turned a blind eye to signs of stress – corruption scandals involving development aid; insufficient progress on key economic rights such as education and health; criminality creeping into state institutions; and lagging indicators in development. Mali’s judiciary, which could have mitigated some of the abuses, has been severely under-resourced, and, in some cases, manipulated, undermining judicial independence and impartiality.

We urge you to reverse these trends by exercising bold leadership and confronting head-on the dynamics that led to Mali’s near-collapse. This should include:

  • A publicly stated and comprehensive strategy to curtail and punish abuses by members of the security forces and corruption by civil servants;
  • Strengthening the judiciary and ensuring accountability for serious abuses committed during the recent armed conflict;
  • Establishing a credible, representative post-conflict truth-telling mechanism; and
  • Adopting concrete measures to root out endemic corruption.

The actions you take – or fail to take – as Mali’s next president could either usher in a period of greater respect for human rights or represent a return to the status quo that gave rise to the recent political-military crisis.

We welcome your recent statements promising to address many of these issues and acknowledge the many challenges that lie ahead. We specifically urge that your administration take action to bring improvement in the following areas of concern:

Accountability and Strengthening of the Judiciary
War crimes and other serious abuses have been committed by all sides during Mai’s recent armed conflict. These abuses include the summary execution of up to 153 Malian soldiers in Aguelhok; widespread looting and pillage, and sexual violence by the Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA); the recruitment and use of child combatants, executions, floggings, amputations, and destruction of religious and cultural shrines by armed Islamist groups; and the summary execution, torture and enforced disappearance by soldiers from the Malian army.

The roadmap for accountability is unclear. We are encouraged by the involvement of the International Criminal Court and the several investigations initiated by the Malian authorities. However, the Ouagadougou Accord of June 18, 2013 included a prisoner release and other provisions that create ambiguity as to whether those responsible for serious crimes will be appropriately prosecuted.

Meanwhile, years of neglect and mismanagement within the Malian judiciary has led to striking deficiencies and undermined efforts to address impunity for the perpetrators of all classes of crimes. Grossly inadequate budgetary allocations for the criminal justice system have resulted in severe shortages of judicial personnel, notably those responsible for representing the indigent, and insufficient infrastructure and resources.

When coupled with unprofessional conduct and corrupt practices, the judicial shortfalls have contributed to widespread abuses of the right to due process. There are insufficient justice system personnel, including prosecutors, public defenders, and clerks; and severe logistical constraints, including insufficient computers, photocopiers, and vehicles to transport prisoners and witnesses to court. Because of the courts’ inability to adequately process cases, hundreds of prisoners are held in extended pretrial detention in often overcrowded jails and detention centers. Development aid destined for the judiciary has been misused and mismanaged, hindering reform efforts.

Recommendations for addressing impunity and improving the justice system include:

  • Promptly investigate and prosecute those responsible from all sides for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law that have occurred at least over the past 18-months.
  • Ensure the Ministry of Justice has sufficient support to address the deficiencies in the criminal justice system, which undermines victims’ access to justice and denies the accused their right to a fair trial.
  • Ensure adequate security for judges handling sensitive dossiers, notably those involving alleged crimes by soldiers or members of armed Islamist groups, and corruption cases.
  • Ensure that the Malian National Human Rights Commission mandated to investigate human rights abuses is fully operational and funded, and allowed to function independently, in conformity with the United Nations Principles relating to the status of national institutions (the Paris Principles.)

Abuses by State Security Forces
Members of the Malian security forces have been implicated in numerous serious abuses for which they have enjoyed near complete impunity. While the lack of accountability has long been a problem in Mali, the 2012 coup appeared to bring about a further deterioration in discipline within the armed forces.

Many abuses were committed against persons in military custody. Human Rights Watch interviewed over 100 detainees accused of supporting armed groups in the north, and numerous other witnesses to serious abuses committed by Malian soldiers since the beginning of the French-led offensive to take back northern Mali in January 2013. In this period, we documented 24 extrajudicial executions, 11 enforced disappearances, and over 50 cases of torture or ill-treatment of suspected Islamist rebels and alleged collaborators. Detainees described being severely beaten, kicked, and strangled; burned with cigarettes, lighters, candles, and lit paper; injected or forced to swallow a caustic substance; subjected to simulated drowning akin to “waterboarding”; slammed with their head against walls and cars; and, in a few cases, subjected to likely electric shocks. The abuses we have documented do not appear to be systematic, however some were committed in the presence of army officers who did nothing to stop them.

Others subjected to abuse included members of the security forces themselves, notably in May 2012 when forces loyal to coup leader Capt.Amadou Sanogo forcibly disappeared at least 21 soldiers allegedly linked to an April 30 counter-coup, and committed torture and other abuses against dozens of others. Sanogo loyalists were also implicated in the abduction, beating, and intimidation of several Malian journalists.

The Malian government and military high command has given mixed signals regarding the abuses, at times flatly denying them and at others promising to hold alleged perpetrators to account. However, virtually none of these abuses have been adequately investigated and prosecuted, despite ample evidence.The recent promotion of Captain Sanogo to the rank of Lt. General is a gross affront to victims of abuses and sendsthe wrong signal to would-be perpetrators.

For Mali to be recognized as a rights-respecting democracy, it is crucial that the government disciplines its soldiers, holds those responsible for abuses to account, and ensures that the security forces fulfill their mandate to protect all Malians. The new government needs to act quickly to build on recent efforts by some Ministry of Defense officials, the European Union, France, and other governments to professionalize and reform the security sector. A failure to take advantage of this opportunity could not only embolden soldiers to commit continued abuses, but may also threaten Mali’s democratic transition.

We urge you to:

  • Discipline or prosecute in accordance with international fair trial standards members of the security forces implicated in serious abuses regardless of position or rank – including those liable under command responsibility for their failure to prevent or prosecute these crimes.
  • Bring greater transparency and fiscal oversight to military expenditures.
  • Establish a 24-hour telephone hotline, staffed by both civilians and military police, for victims and witnesses to report criminal offenses and other abuses committed by security service personnel.

Truth-Telling and Reconciliation Mechanism
Human Rights Watch has long supported a truth-telling mechanism in Mali for several reasons. First, it could illuminate under-exposed atrocities committed during previous armed conflicts, notably those suffered by populations in the north. Second, it could explore the factors that gave rise to Mali’s multi-faceted crisis including state neglect, poor governance, and endemic corruption. Third, it could explore the dynamics leading to communal and ethnic tensions that have worsened over the past year and threaten to erupt again. Lastly, it could make recommendations aimed at preventing a repetition of past violations and improving governance.

While we recognize the establishment in March 2013 of the Commission for Dialog and Reconciliation, we believe its efficacy to date has been undermined by an unclear mandate and problems in the commissioner-selection process, which lacked sufficient consultation with a wide variety of stakeholders.While its mandate and powers appear limited to promote reconciliation, some Malians have pushed for a commission that could address impunity for abuses, including the inclusion of provisions to recommend individuals for prosecution. Indeed, while truth commissions can respond to victim and community needs in ways that justice mechanisms may not, they are by themselves an insufficient response to grave human rights abuses.

The hasty “top down” selection process of commissioners – selected by the interim government – risks being perceived as an arm of special interests. The selection and appointment of such a body is particularly sensitive and shouldbe the result of a comprehensive consultative process to explore the commission’s mandate, composition and powers. To bolster the actual and perceived impartiality, some commissions have included international members.

To ensure a more inclusive commission, we recommend that you:

  • Reconstitute the composition of the Commission for Dialog and Reconciliationby way of a widely consultative selection process involving members of civil society, women’s groups, political parties, labor unions, victims’ groups, the diaspora, religious leaders, and the security forces, among others.
  • To ensure the independence and impartiality of the commission, proposed commissioners should be subject to public confirmation hearings.
  • Commit to making the commission part of broader efforts toward truth-telling and accountability, including justice for serious crimes.

Corruption and the Fulfillment of Economic and Social Rights

We welcome your commitment to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to corrupt practices by government officials. Graft and corruption remain endemic at all levels of government. Many Malians with whom we spoke described how corruption impacts on their lives and the lives of their children, and identified providing accountability for economic crimes as the single most important challenge going forward. Corrupt practices and the gross mismanagement of revenue impede Malians access to basic health care, education and other economic rights.

To reverse this situation we urge you to:

  • Develop a comprehensive and public policy and plan to discipline and prosecute corruption and the use of state funds for personal enrichment by public officials at all levels;
  • Present specific steps to improve transparency at all levels of government, including financial oversight in the use of public funds.
  • Encourage parliament to strengthen legislation on asset declaration so that senior government officials, members of parliament, and heads of state-owned companies are required to publicly declare all personal assets upon taking and leaving office.
  • Establish a fully independent, well-funded anti-corruption body empowered to investigate, subpoena, and seek the prosecution ofpublic officials implicated in corrupt practices.
  • Ensure public access to reports by the auditor general.

Mali’s recent elections represent a true window of opportunity for Malians to confront some of the chronic issues that gave rise to the recent political, security and human rights crisis in the country. We hope the actions that you and your government take will usher in needed measures to address the chronic human rights problems that have undermined the civil, political, social, and economic rights of Malians for years. Human Rights Watch stands ready to support the efforts of your government to strengthen the rule of law and ensure accountability for human rights abuses.


Ken Roth
Executive Director
Human Rights Watch

Babatunde Olugboji
Deputy Program Director
Human Rights Watch

Corinne Dufka
Senior Researcher
Human Rights Watch

Mr. Bert Koenders, Special Representative of the Secretary General
H.E. Mr. Gilles Huberson, French Ambassador to Mali
H.E. Mrs. Mary Beth Leonard, US Ambassador to Mali
Mr. Richard Zink, Head of the European Delegation in Mali
H.E. Mr. Louis de Lorimier, Canadian Ambassador to Mali
H.E. Kadré Désiré Ouedraogo, President of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS
H.E. Mr. Pierre Buyoya, Special Representative of the Chairperson of the Commission of the African Union
Mr. Said Djinnit, United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.

Region / Country