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MALI 2021

Military forces and armed groups continued to commit human rights violations and abuses against civilians, including war crimes. The intelligence services were suspected of forcibly disappearing senior officials. There were some developments in investigations into the use of lethal force during protests in 2020 but progress was limited regarding justice for violations by the military. The government failed to protect citizens from discrimination based on social status. The Covid-19 vaccine roll-out was slow.

Background

Following a cabinet reshuffle in May, the military arrested the transitional president and prime minister in the second coup in nine months. There were clear signs that the transitional government phase might extend beyond the February 2022 deadline. ECOWAS suspended Mali following the coup and imposed sanctions against several transitional leaders. In October, the ECOWAS Special Representative in Mali was ordered to leave the country.

Civilians bore the brunt of the continuing armed conflict in the Mopti and Ségou regions. In June, the French authorities announced plans for a phased reduction of Operation Barkhane, their regional counterterrorist operation in the Sahel region. Rumours that a Russian private military company would fill the void further strained Franco-Malian relations.

Abuses by armed groups

The Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (GSIM) and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) committed war crimes and other abuses against civilians.

The GSIM blockaded many villages and communities, restricting residents’ free movement and access to their farmland and water, to force them to cease collaboration with the army. Farabougou village in Ségou region was blockaded for six months until April.

Between April and August, the GSIM blockaded Dinagourou in the Mopti region, denying villagers access to their lands during the rainy season.

In August, ISGS attacks in the Ansongo Cercle killed 51 civilians in the Ouattagouna, Karou and Daoutegeft communes of the Ménaka region.

Violations of international humanitarian law

Military operations in the Mopti region led to serious human rights violations which could in some cases amount to crimes under international law.

On 3 January, the French military killed 22 people who had gathered for wedding celebrations, in an airstrike on Bounti village. The airstrike occurred in the context of Franco-Malian military operations between 2 and 20 January. An investigation by MINUSMA (the UN mission in Mali) concluded that most of the guests were civilians from Bounti and nearby villages, including 19 of those killed, while three were possibly members of Katiba Serma, a GSIM-affiliated group. It recommended that the Malian and French authorities conduct an independent, credible and transparent investigation into the attack and possible violations of humanitarian law.

Following an attack on a Malian military position in Boni (Mopti region) in February, local residents said Malian armed forces committed violations in retaliation, including the enforced disappearance of 17 bus travellers in March and the torture and other ill-treatment of dozens of marketgoers in April.

On 2 April, Malian soldiers extrajudicially executed four people on the outskirts of Diafarabé town, according to the victims’ relatives. The victims, who lived near an army camp, were accused of harbouring people who had attacked the camp that day.

In October, Malian soldiers arrested at least 30 people in Sofara on market day. A video documenting the arrests showed soldiers torturing an elderly man to force him to confess to belonging to an armed group. Later that month, the army announced it was investigating the torture and that the soldiers responsible had been suspended. The same communiqué announced that “22 presumed terrorists” had been arrested in Sofara and held in the gendarmerie’s custody.

Arbitrary arrests and detentions

In March, the Appeal Court of Bamako dismissed all charges, due to lack of evidence, against several individuals arbitrarily arrested in December 2020. The detainees, including popular radio host Mohamed Youssouf Bathily – also known as “Ras Bath” – and five senior civil servants had been accused of plotting to “destabilize the institutions of the transition” with former prime minister Boubou Cissé, who was accused but never arrested. They were released from custody in April; however, in May, Ras Bath was arbitrarily detained again for a week after he denounced the judiciary’s complicity in the “sham” investigation against him.

Following the coup in May, the military arbitrarily arrested and detained the former president, Bah Ndaw, and prime minister Moctar Ouane without charge at the Soundiata Keita military camp in Kati; after a few days, Bah Ndaw was transferred to Camp A in Bamako, and Moctar Ouane placed under house arrest in Bamako. The military justified their detention on security grounds. In August, both were released and allowed to move freely.

Two civil servants were forcibly disappeared for two months, allegedly by the Sécurité d’État, before being transferred to Bamako central prison. Kalilou Doumbia, Permanent Secretary to the Presidency under Bah Ndaw, was arrested on 6 September according to Human Rights Watch, and his family was unable to obtain information as to his whereabouts or his fate. On 10 September, Moustapha Diakité, a police commissioner based in Kayes, was also disappeared after he was summoned to a meeting with the National Police high command.It was not until 5 November that the whereabouts of both men became known when, along with Colonel Kassoum Goïta, former head of the Sécurité d’État, and four other individuals, they were charged with criminal conspiracy and plotting against the government.

Right to truth, justice and reparation

In April, the Bamako Assizes Court heard 12 trials on terrorism charges, leading to the conviction of 28 people who were given life sentences, and the acquittal of one. In October, another Special Assizes session in Bamako heard 47 additional cases under terrorism charges. In some cases, violations of the right to a fair trial were documented with illegal pretrial detention by intelligence services and a lack of legal representation during preliminary investigations. In June, the Assizes Court of Mopti tried 12 people for the unlawful killings of 39 civilians from Koulogon-Peul in January 2019. The accused, who had been provisionally released by the court, were convicted in their absence and sentenced to life imprisonment on charges including murder.

There was limited progress in investigations into crimes under international law committed by the military.

In September, the commander of the Special Anti-Terror Force, Oumar Samaké, was arrested and charged with “murder, aggravated assault, lethal assault and complicity in murder”, in relation to the deaths of 14 protesters in 2020 following the use of excessive force by security forces. His arrest led to spontaneous protests by police officers, who freed him from the main prison in Bamako and paraded him through the streets. Oumar Samaké returned voluntarily to pretrial detention after the government gave him an ultimatum.

Discrimination

Discrimination and violence continued against people based on social status arising from their descent. In September, one person was killed and many others injured in a mob attack in Tomora against an Independence Day procession of people belonging to a caste perceived to be inferior.

Right to health

In February Mali received its first batch of 396,000 Covid-19 vaccines through COVAX. By December, 963,968 doses were administered, with 349,000 (1.7% of the population) having received two doses. Vaccinations were mainly concentrated in urban centres due to the lack of security in the central and northern regions and poor medical infrastructure made it difficult to conserve doses for delivery to remote areas.