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The Sundiata Keïta army base in Kati, Mali, May 25, 2021.  © 2021 Amadou Keita/Reuters

Dr. Kalilou Doumbia, a jurist and advisor to Mali’s top political figures, went missing while en route to a meeting on September 6 at the University of Bamako, where he lectures on legal and political studies. “He told me he was on his way, but when he didn’t show, we started calling people along the route he would’ve taken to work, to see if they’d seen anything suspicious,” a colleague told Human Rights Watch.  

The next day his family filed a missing person’s report, but two weeks later, they have received no official word regarding his whereabouts. Several individuals, including a United Nations official, told Human Rights Watch that, according to inside sources, Mali’s intelligence services had apprehended Doumbia and held him incommunicado for 10 days at an unauthorized detention facility in Sundiata Keïta military camp, in Bamako’s suburb of Kati.

“We heard he was being held in Kati camp, but no one dared ask after him,” a family member said. “We are terrified to approach that place.”

Inside sources informed them on September 17 that Doumbia may have been transferred to a gendarme camp in Bamako. He has not been brought before a judge or charged, as required by international human rights law.

Doumbia, 35, had been an advisor to President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who was deposed in 2020, and secretary general for the subsequent transitional president, Bah N’Daw, who was deposed in May 2021.

Doumbia’s arbitrary detention is the latest of several cases involving political figures. After the 2020 coup, military authorities detained several high level officials. In December, they detained five men, including a former prime minister and a journalist, for allegedly plotting to overthrow the transitional government; all were released in April for lack of evidence. The military placed deposed President Bah N’Daw and his prime minister under house arrest for three months starting in May. In July, a man accused of attempting to stab interim President Assimi Goïta died in custody under suspicious circumstances.

The authorities have an obligation to bring those arrested promptly before a judge and charge them with a credible offense.  Holding people such as Doumbia incommunicado could amount to enforced disappearance. If he hasn’t been charged, he should immediately be released.

The political turmoil in Mali over the past year, including two military coups, has undoubtedly undermined Malians’ trust in their government. An impartial and independent justice system is needed now more than ever.

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