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Mali: New Government at Crossroads

Urgent Need to Address Abuses, Corruption Underscoring Recent Crisis

(Nairobi) – Mali’s incoming government should take concrete steps to strengthen the rule of law, hold rights abusers to account, and address endemic corruption, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to President-elect Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

The new president, who is to be sworn in on September 4, 2013, is inheriting numerous challenges, including a culture of impunity, graft by officials, indiscipline within the security forces, ethnic tensions, and crushing poverty, Human Rights Watch said.

“After a deeply troubling period, Mali stands at a crossroads,” said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “President Keita’s actions – or inactions – could usher in greater respect for human rights or a return to the problems that caused Mali’s near-collapse last year.”

Keita won Mali’s presidential runoff election on August 11 with 78 percent of the vote. The election followed a tumultuous period that began with a January 2012 rebellion by ethnic Tuareg separatists. The rebellion was soon hijacked by armed Islamist groups that quickly consolidated their control over Mali’s north. The government’s response was paralyzed by a March 2012 military coup and months of unrest in the capital, Bamako. France led an offensive in January 2013 that retook the north for the government.

Mali’s recent crisis was rooted in years of deterioration in the key institutions responsible for the rule of law, notably the severely under-resourced judiciary; ignoring corruption scandals allowed a dangerous culture of impunity to take hold, Human Rights Watch said.

The Islamist occupation in the north and chaos in the south saw a drastic deterioration in respect for human rights, with Malians suffering grave abuses from all sides. Islamist groups tried to enforce their brand of Sharia law through beatings, amputations, killings, and the destruction of religious landmarks. Separatist Tuareg rebels engaged in sexual abuse and looting before leaving the area they earlier controlled. Elements of the Malian army have tortured and summarily executed alleged rebel collaborators and members of rival military units.

Human Rights Watch urged Keita to reverse this trend and confront head-on the dynamics that led to Mali’s near-collapse. Human Rights Watch called for him to adopt a zero-tolerance policy on abuses by the security forces and graft by civil servants; tackle the culture of impunity by strengthening the judiciary and ensuring accountability for wartime abuses; establish a credible, representative truth-telling mechanism; and take concrete measures to curtail corruption.

“Malians have suffered greatly from chronic state neglect and the recent armed conflict,” Dufka said. “President Keita should waste no time in setting Mali on a course for better and more rights-respecting governance. Doing so would meaningfully sustain the momentum created by the election and capitalize on the significant engagement of Mali’s international partners.”

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