Armed groups and security forces committed crimes under international law with impunity. Police used excessive force against protesters and others. Activists and officials affiliated to the former government were arbitrarily arrested and detained. The authorities failed to act to protect women and girls from female genital mutilation (FGM). People were discriminated against based on their perceived social status. The ongoing conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic seriously undermined the rights to health and education.
Legislative elections held between March and April led to a political crisis. In June, a coalition of opposition groups and religious leaders formed the June 5 Movement, which contested the election results and demanded the President’s resignation. In August, a National Committee for the People’s Salvation deposed the President and his government via a coup. A transitional government was formed in October. The security situation remained precarious in the context of the ongoing conflict, particularly in the central regions where different armed groups operate, including the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (GSIM), the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara and self-defined “self-defence militias”.
Abuses by armed groups
Armed groups committed war crimes and other abuses, including dozens of attacks against civilians. According to the UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), in January a Dozo group (traditional hunters) attacked Sinda village, killing 14 civilians. In February, Dan na Ambassagou, an armed group, attacked Ogossagou village, killing at least 35 civilians and injuring three others, while the fate of 19 people remained unaccounted for. In July, gunmen thought to be affiliated with the GSIM attacked several villages in the Tori and Diallassagou communes, killing at least 32 civilians. Armed groups also targeted MINUSMA. As of September, two UN personnel were killed and 40 others injured.
Between September and the year’s end, armed groups besieged Farabougou village in the Ségou region, preventing villagers from accessing their farmland and moving freely.
At least three candidates were abducted while campaigning during the legislative elections. All were released. On 25 March, Soumaila Cissé, leader of the opposition, and five members of his campaign team were abducted by members of the GSIM in Niafounké town in the Timbuktu region. His bodyguard was killed during the abduction and, although all the campaign team were released in the following days, Soumaila Cissé was not released until 8 October along with one French and two Italian hostages.
The Malian army committed war crimes and other human rights violations against civilian populations during their operations.
Between 3 February and 10 March, at least 23 civilians were killed by soldiers in Niono Cercle in the Ségou region, and at least 27 others were subjected to enforced disappearance.
In June, according to MINUSMA, 43 civilians were killed by members of the National Guard in the villages of Binédama and Yangassadiou, following a patrol with a Dozo group. The army publicly acknowledged the killings and, despite its promise to investigate, no further information was made public at the end of the year.
Excessive use of force
The security forces used excessive force, including unlawful use of lethal force, to disperse protests.
The Constitutional Court’s ruling which validated 31 disputed results during the elections led to nationwide protests. In Sikasso on 7 May, security forces fired live ammunition to disperse protests. Five demonstrators were injured, and one died from his wounds.
On 11 May, a 17-year-old motorcyclist was killed while being arrested by an off-duty police officer in Kayes. This led to demonstrations in the city the following day and two people, including a 12-year-old boy, were shot dead by the police.
Between 10 and 12 July, security forces fired at demonstrators in the capital, Bamako, after they had occupied public buildings and erected barricades to call for the President’s resignation; 14 protesters died from gunshot wounds and hundreds were injured. In August, the government announced an investigation into the deaths.
Arbitrary arrests and detentions
On 9 May, Clément Dembelé, an anti-corruption activist, was abducted while driving in Banconi, a suburb of Bamako, by eight hooded intelligence service agents after he had called on security forces to stop using violence against demonstrators in Sikasso. He was detained incommunicado for 12 days by the intelligence services and released on 21 May and charged with “inciting security and defence forces to disobey their commanders.” On 29 September, he was acquitted of all charges.
Following the August coup, several cabinet members and military officers, including the then President, Prime Minister and National Assembly President, were illegally detained without charge. Deposed President Keïta was detained for 10 days before being allowed to travel for medical reasons at the end of August. The others were released without charge in October.
Right to health
In June, humanitarian organizations estimated that 23% of Mali’s health centres were not operational or were partially operational due to budget constraints, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the conflict on public services. According to the UN, around 287,496 people were internally displaced and 42,780 were refugees. The right to health of these groups was seriously undermined.
Right to education
Children were denied their right to education as a result of the activity of armed groups, especially in central Mali. This was compounded by a 12-month teachers’ strike in protest against the government’s reneging on an agreement to increase their salaries. As of March, according to UNICEF, 1,261 schools were closed because of the continuing threat of attacks by armed groups, affecting 370,000 students and 7,500 teachers.
Discrimination based on caste and social status continued to be widespread, often leading to violence. In June 2018, the village chief of Diandioumé, Kayes region, evicted a family from their farmland, based on their perceived inferior social status. In September, after the judicial authorities confirmed the family’s land tenure, four individuals fighting against this discrimination were beaten to death by a local mob while three others, including an 80-year-old woman, were seriously injured. The authorities arrested 11 people suspected of being involved in the murders and judicial proceedings were ongoing at the end of the year.
Violence against women and girls
In June, the CEDAW Committee denounced the government’s failure to criminalize FGM, which, it said, enabled perpetrators to violate women’s rights with impunity. A bill drafted in 2017 outlawed the practice but was yet to be adopted.
Right to truth, justice and reparation
In January, the Assizes Court in Bamako provisionally released Amadou Haya Sanogo, a former leader of a military junta, and 17 of his co-accused. They were charged in December 2013 for the kidnapping, murder and complicity in the murder of 21 soldiers. They had spent more than six years in pre-trial detention in Sélingué – three years beyond the maximum allowed under Malian law. Their trial, which had begun in 2016, was suspended in January 2020 and was still pending resumption at the end of the year.
The trial of Al Hasan ag Abdoul Aziz ag Mohamed before the ICC started in July. He was accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Timbuktu while he was a member of the Ansar Eddine, an armed group which controlled the city during the Islamist occupation of northern Mali between 2012 and 2013.
At least 18 armed group members were convicted on terrorism-related charges by the Bamako Assizes Court, including three men sentenced to death for their roles in the attack on the Radisson Blu Hotel in 2015, (although one was later released in a prisoner exchange). Fifteen men were also convicted for “terrorism, possession of war weapons and murder” and sentenced to death in November. However, most war crimes and other serious human rights violations perpetrated against civilians in the context of the conflict remained unpunished.