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The human rights climate in northern and increasingly central Mali remains precarious as a result of abuses and intimidation by Islamist armed groups, bloody intercommunal clashes, surges in violent crime and rights violations by state security forces engaged in counterterrorism operations.  

Slow implementation of the 2015 peace accord and the failure to disarm thousands of combatants involved in the 2012-2013 armed conflict, deepened a security vacuum that increasingly has placed civilians in the north at risk. Meanwhile, from 2015, Islamist armed groups have increasingly carried out operations and abuses in central and southern Mali, including the capital, Bamako. 

The insecurity undermined efforts by the Malian government and its international partners to strengthen the rule of law and deliver basic health care, education, and humanitarian assistance. Persistent intercommunal conflicts in central and northern Mali left dozens dead and were exploited by armed groups to garner support and recruits.

The Malian security forces responded to attacks by Islamist armed groups with counterterrorism operations that often resulted in arbitrary arrests, summary executions, torture, and other ill-treatment. In general, abuses by the security forces have gradually decreased. They have been either unable or unwilling to protect citizens from rampant and rising crime, but have made meaningful effort to respond to communal violence.

Malian authorities made scant effort to investigate and hold accountable those implicated in recent abuses or those committed during the 2012-2013 armed conflict. The criminal justice system and other rule-of-law institutions remain weak. Corruption was endemic at all levels of government, further impeding Malians’ access to basic health care and education.

  1. Malian Security Force Violations

During its 2013 UPR review, Mali accepted to “guarantee the respect for human rights and international humanitarian law by the defense and security forces.” While serious human rights abuses by the security forces have steadily declined since 2013, abuses including extrajudicial execution, enforced disappearance, torture, and arbitrary detention have persisted.  

The vast majority of these abuses were committed by the Malian army during counterterrorism operations in Mali’s northern and central regions, usually during ad hoc interrogations in the first two days after detention, though the soldiers are not authorized to interrogate detainees. In several cases, officers were present during the abuse. The vast majority of detainees with whom we spoke said the abuse stopped after they were handed over to government gendarmes who usually provided medical care to the detained.

Since 2013, a Human Rights Watch researcher has conducted in-depth interviews with several hundred men detained for their alleged support for or membership in Islamist armed groups in central and northern Mali, and scores of other witnesses to serious abuses by the Malian security forces. 

During this time, Human Rights Watch documented the extrajudicial killing of 43 detainees; the enforced disappearance of 17; and the severe mistreatment of over 70. 

With respect to torture and mistreatment, Mali accepted to adopt and implement measures to ensure that international human rights standards are observed by the Malian Armed Forces, in particular the absolute ban on torture and ill-treatment. Scores of detainees interviewed between 2013 and 2017 told Human Rights Watch that they had been severely mistreated during interrogation by army soldiers. The detainees, many of whom had scars and showed visible signs of torture, described being hogtied, pummeled with fists and gun butts, kicked, suspended from trees, burned, and subjected to simulated drowning akin to waterboardingand other mock executions. Several had broken bones, lost teeth, or permanently lost their hearing or sight. They were also routinely denied food, water, and medical care.

Frequent acts of bribe-taking, extortion, and theft from detainees and civilians by the Malian security forces has undermined confidence and been exploited by Islamist armed groups to garner support and recruits.

During its 2013 UPR, Mali committed to undertake effective and impartial investigations into all reports of extrajudicial executions, torture, other ill-treatment and violence by its security forces and to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice. This has not occurred. Despite having been made aware of serious violations, by way of letters, reports by human rights groups and the media, and meetings with high-level government officials, the military and civilian justice systems made next to no effort to investigate and hold to account soldiers implicated in violations against detainees. However, progress was made in staffing and equipping the Military Justice Directorate in Bamako. 

Mali committed to taking measures to “provide for the effective protection of human rights and due process of law.” While nearly all detainees accused of supporting Islamist armed groups are promptly brought before a judge, several have been nevertheless held without respect for due process within the confines of the state security services, which is not an official detention center. 

Mali accepted to provide “human rights training to law enforcement officials and judges to reinforce a culture of human rights.” There has been considerable progress in this area.  The Malian army consistently trains personnel in international humanitarian law (IHL) and has increasingly worked to ensure provost marshals are included in field operations so as to ensure IHL is respected. Both of these efforts appear to have led to a reduction in abuses against detainees.

Mali accepted to “take all necessary measures to avoid collective and arbitrary punishments of presumed rebels' collaborators,” however this appears to be a continuing problem. Lawyers, judges and community leaders consistently told Human Rights Watch they believe the evidentiary basis for many detentions is weak and sometimes based on false intelligence provided by people to settle personal scores. That scores of men detained and accused of being collaborators are quickly let go on the basis of no evidence after their cases have been reviewed by a judge, suggests this is the case.  


  • Take necessary steps to ensure that security forces abide by international humanitarian law and international human rights law.
  • Investigate and prosecute, in accordance with international standards, members of the security forces against whom there is evidence of criminal responsibility for past and ongoing abuses.
  • Ensure government gendarmes fulfill their mandated role of provost marshal by accompanying the Malian army on operations at all times.
  • Desist from holding suspects in unauthorized detention facilities, notably the General Directorate of State Security (Direction générale de la sécurité d’État, or DGSE).  
  1. Impunity for Abuses by Armed Groups in North and Central Mali

During their year-long occupation of the north (2012-2013), Islamist groups linked to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and separatist ethnic Tuaregs from the Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) committed numerous grave human rights abuses against civilians and prisoners from the Malian army.

Serious crimes included the summary execution of some 150 Malian soldiers in Aguelhok, the limb amputation of some 15 men accused of theft and robbery,  the destruction of cultural and religious shrines by Islamist armed groups, and sexual violence and widespread pillage by the MNLA. All sides recruited and used children.

Since 2013, Islamist armed groups operating in central and southern Mali have executed dozens of suspected government collaborators including mayors, village chiefs and members of armed groups signatory to the 2015 peace accord; and frequently attacked and killed over 75 peacekeepers since the 2013 deployment of the UN Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA.) 

In 2013, Mali accepted to take measures to “hold accountable perpetrators of serious human rights violations by the armed groups and to offer redress to the victims in Northern Mali.” There has been little progress in this area. With a few exceptions, judicial authorities failed to investigate over 100 complaints filed by victims of alleged crimes by armed groups during the 2012-2013 armed conflict. There has similarly been little progress in investigating abuses allegedly perpetrated by these groups in central Mali between 2015-2017.  

Furthermore, the government’s release of over 100 men from detention between 2014-2015, including several men allegedly implicated in serious international crimes during the 2012-2013 armed conflict, raised concern of a de facto amnesty. The releases, characterized by the government as a “confidence-building measure” in the context of negotiations, were carried out without regard to whether the men might have been responsible for serious crimes. More generally, the accord lacked provisions to address impunity and the need for justice for serious crimes committed by all sides during the conflict.

There has been some progress in the fight against impunity. Mali carried through on its commitment “to cooperate with the International Criminal Court.”  Mali joined the ICC treaty in 2000 and referred crimes committed within the country since January 2012 to the ICC prosecutor. In September 2016, the ICC sentenced Malian Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, formerly with Ansar Dine, to nine years in prison for his role in destroying historical and religious monuments in Timbuktu in 2012. ICC investigations in Mali are ongoing.

Progress in the recommendation to investigate the “enforced disappearances and torture carried out against members of the armed and police forces who were opposed to the military junta after the attempted coup d'état in April 2012” was made:  The trial of those implicated in the 2012 abduction and killing of 21 elite “Red Beret” soldiers -- former coup leader Gen. Amadou Haya Sanogo and 17 co-defendants -- began on November 30, 2016.


  • Ensure the prompt investigation and appropriate prosecution of those from all sides of Mali’s recent armed conflict responsible for serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.
  • Consider the establishment a special investigation cell to investigate grave crimes committed by all sides during and since the 2012-2013 armed conflict.
  • Continue full cooperation with the International Criminal Court.    


  1. Rampant Banditry and Crime in North and Central Mali

The 2013 UPR contained no recommendations addressing the government’s obligation to protect its citizens from common crime. However, victims describe their lives and livelihoods as being torn apart by rampant and often violent crime that has risen steadily since 2013 and is particularly acute in Mali’s north and center.

The robberies target transport vehicles, buses, animal herders, and traders who travel from village to village buying and selling their wares. Entire herds of livestock are often stolen, while drivers and traders describe ambushes by well-organized groups of armed men.  Increasingly, they occur in major towns and villages. Scores of people have been wounded or killed, and several women have been raped during these attacks. 

Victims reported little confidence in government security forces to protect them from the rampant banditry or investigate and arrest alleged perpetrators. Victims’ requests for security measures to deter crime were often unmet; victims said they rarely saw armed government patrols on the highways, much less on the smaller roads, allowing bandits to operate with little fear of being apprehended. Few incidents of banditry reported to the authorities were investigated.

The delivery of health services, education, and aid to north and central Mali by both the Malian government and aid agencies has been severely hampered by banditry, armed group attacks, and inter-communal violence. As a result, there has been insufficient progress in the implementation of the UPR recommendation to “[i]mprove and ensure adequate access to health care and education for children.

Since 2013, armed criminal elements have frequently targeted vehicles used by aid groups, while many offices or staff residences were burglarized. On several occasions, the attackers threatened, tied up, or beat aid agency personnel.  On at least 12 occasions, ambulances and vehicles used by both the Malian government and aid organizations to deliver health care were attacked or robbed. In some, sick passengers and health workers were forced out of the vehicles, which were then stolen.

In November 2016, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that the number of schools affected by insecurity and threats in north and central Mali had increased, with 421 schools closed at the beginning of the 2016 school year in October. In 2016, some 2.5 million people nationwide face food insecurity. 


  • Provide regular and adequate patrols to protect civilians and humanitarian workers in areas at particular risk from violent crime and banditry, particularly on market days. 
  • Accelerate redeployment of police, gendarmes, and Justice Ministry personnel to towns and villages in the north.
  • Investigate and prosecute in accordance with international fair trial standards those implicated in criminal conduct. 
  • Establish a 24-hour telephone hotline, staffed by relevant Malian authorities, for victims and witnesses to report complaints about criminal activity. 
  • Ensure effective and rapid communication between hotline staff and Malian authorities mandated with civilian protection, including UN peacekeepers.
  1. Episodes of Deadly Communal Violence

Since 2013, numerous episodes of  communal violence, underscored by ethnic tension over banditry and access to land and water, have left several hundred dead and displaced thousands. The army has generally tried to calm tensions by patrolling, though they have on occasion failed to act with impartiality towards opposing ethnic groups and militia groups engaged in the violence. Only one of these incidents - near the central town of Dioura in 2016 -- has resulted in arrests of the alleged perpetrators.    


  • Take all necessary measures to protect civilians at risk from communal violence in areas under government control.
  • Investigate and appropriately prosecute all those responsible for communal violence.
  • Investigate sources of weapons used by self-defense groups and Islamist armed groups.
  • Investigate the underlying causes of inter-communal tensions in central Mali, including government corruption, resolution of farmer-herder tensions, and the crucial need for civilian protection from – and justice for – rampant banditry.  
  1. Children’s Rights

In 2013 Mali committed to “take all feasible measures to protect children from recruitment by State-allied and non-State armed groups.” However, a self-defense militia credibly believed to be supported by Mali’s government -- the Imghad and Allied Toureg Self-Defence movement (GATIA) - continues to use and recruit child soldiers.  Progress was made in the 2013 establishment and consistent implementation of a protocol to ensure child combatants are promptly handed over to humanitarian actors and reunified with their families.

Mali accepted to “combat effectively the child labour and trafficking of children.” However tens of thousands of children continue to work in artisanal and small-scale gold mines in highly dangerous conditions, despite a legal ban on hazardous child labor. On the positive side, Mali ratified the Minamata Convention on Mercury, which will enter into force on August 18, 2017, and obligates parties to take steps to reduce the use of mercury for gold processing in small-scale mines, and specific measures to protect children from mercury exposure.


  • Immediately demobilize all children being used by government-supported militias.
  • Improve child labor monitoring, including in artisanal and small-scale gold mines.
  • Enforce the legal ban on hazardous child labor.
  • Include measures to protect children from mercury exposure when developing a National Action Plan on Mercury in Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining.
  1. Judiciary and Legal Framework to Protect Human Rights and Truth Seeking   

Mali accepted to strengthen the legal framework for human rights protection. However, the Malian judiciary countrywide was characterized by insufficient staffing and logistical constraints. These shortfalls hindered efforts to address impunity for perpetrators of all crimes, contributed to violations of the right to due process, and led to incidents of vigilante justice. Due to the courts’ inability to adequately process cases, numerous detainees are held in prolonged pretrial detention.

There was progress in improving prison conditions, however the country’s largest prison, in Bamako, remained extremely overcrowded.

Mali has not abolished the death penalty, or ratified the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights or Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. 

During its 2013 UPR, Mali accepted recommendations to adopt measures guaranteeing the right to justice, truth and reparation for victims and their family members in cases of serious human rights violations. The establishment of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission by executive order of the president in 2014 represents progress in this area.  The commission has a three-year mandate and  has made progress in fulfilling its mandate. However, the credibility of the body was undermined by the government’s failure to sufficiently consult with a wide variety of stakeholders on the commission’s membership, mandated powers, and degree of independence. The commission’s inclusion of nine members of armed groups and lack of inclusion of those representing victims’ groups drew sharp criticism from Malian civil society.


  • Provide adequate resources to the Ministry of Justice and the judiciary to address the deficiencies in the criminal justice system, to ensure victims’ access to justice.  
  • Ensure all persons accused of criminal offenses have access to adequate legal representation regardless of their means.
  • Improve prison conditions by ensuring adequate nutrition, sanitation, and medical care.
  • Abolish the death penalty.
  • Ensure the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission works to expose less well-known abuses, explore the dynamics that gave rise to and sustained successive periods of conflict, and make recommendations aimed at ensuring better governance and preventing a repetition of past violations.
  • Establish an independent, adequately funded, anti-corruption body empowered to investigate, subpoena, and recommend prosecution of public officials implicated in corrupt practices.
  • Publish the national budget and issue regular updates that accurately detail expenditures. Information on government revenues and expenditures should be made easily accessible and presented in a form that can be understood by the public.

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