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Executive Summary

Mali is a constitutional democracy. In 2013 President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita won the presidential election, deemed free and fair by international observers. The inauguration of President Keita and the subsequent establishment of a new National Assembly through free and fair elections ended a 16-month transitional period following the 2012 military coup that ousted the previous democratically elected president, Amadou Toumani Toure. The restoration of a democratic government and the arrest of coup leader Amadou Sanogo restored some civilian control over the military.

Civilian authorities did not always maintain effective control over the security forces.

Despite the signing of the Algiers Accord for Peace and Reconciliation in June 2015 between the government, the Platform of northern militias, and the Coordination of Movements of Azawad (CMA), violent conflict between CMA and Platform forces continued throughout the northern region. The terrorist coalition Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wa Muslimin (Support to Islam and Muslims, JNIM)–comprised of Ansar al-Dine, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and the Macina Liberation Front (MLF)–was not a party to the peace process. JNIM carried out attacks on the military, armed groups, UN peacekeepers and convoys, international forces, humanitarian actors, and civilian targets throughout northern Mali and the Mopti and Segou regions of central Mali.

The most significant human rights issues included arbitrary deprivation of life; disappearances; torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest; excessively long pretrial detention; denial of fair public trial; female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), which was common and not prohibited by law; the recruitment and use of child soldiers by armed groups, some of which were affiliated with the government; and trafficking in persons. Authorities and employers often disregarded workers’ rights, and exploitative labor, including child labor, was common.

The government made little or no effort to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed violations, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, and impunity was a problem. Widespread impunity for serious crimes committed in the north and center of the country continued.

Despite human rights provisions in the June 2015 peace accord, elements within the Platform–including the Imghad Tuareg and Allies Self-defense Group (GATIA), the Arab Movement for Azawad-Platform (MAA-PF), and the Coordination of Patriotic Resistance Forces and Movements (CMFPR)–and elements in the CMA–including the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA), the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA), and the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA)–committed serious human rights abuses, including summary executions, torture, and use of child soldiers. Extremist groups, including affiliates of AQIM, kidnapped and killed civilians and military force members, including peacekeepers. The government, in collaboration with French military forces, conducted counterterrorism operations in northern and central Mali leading to the detention of extremists, armed group elements, and other suspects accused of committing crimes. Reports of abuses rarely led to investigations or prosecutions.

Accusations against Chadian peacekeepers from the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) who were accused of numerous human rights abuses in Kidal Region, including killings, abductions, and arbitrary arrests in 2016, were under investigation but remain unresolved.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings (see section 1.g.).

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), armed forces personnel committed extrajudicial killings and torture of persons accused of supporting Islamist armed groups, primarily in the Mopti and Segou regions. HRW documented three common graves believed to contain the remains of at least 14 men executed after being detained by soldiers since December. The minister of defense stated that the Ministry of Defense (MOD) had launched an investigation into these allegations, which was not completed at year’s end.

Armed groups who signed the peace accord and violent extremist groups committed numerous arbitrary killings related to internal conflict. Approximately 200 persons, including several civilians, were killed during clashes between the CMA and GATIA. GATIA reportedly received equipment and logistical support from the government during this period. Terrorist elements, including JNIM affiliates, launched frequent attacks, killing civilians as well as national and international security force members.

Attacks by bandits and extremist Islamist groups increasingly expanded from the traditional conflict zone in the north to the Mopti and Segou regions in the central part of the country. These attacks targeted government and international security force members.

In 2016 Chadian members of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) allegedly killed civilians. In May, Chadian soldiers attached to MINUSMA reportedly arrested several civilians after a May 2016 attack by Ansar al-Dine. One of the arrested men, a herder, died in Chadian custody. As of October the MINUSMA investigation into the incident continued.

There was limited progress in the prosecution of suspects, including coup leader Amadou Sanogo, in the 2012 disappearance, torture, and killing of 21 Red Berets, including former junta member Colonel Youssouf Traore. Sanogo remained under arrest awaiting trial. His trial began in Sikasso in late 2016, but the presiding judge accepted a defense motion to delay the trial. At year’s end, the case was still pending at the Court of Appeals, awaiting results of a DNA analysis.

b. Disappearance

There were several reports of disappearances. For example, on February 3, Ibrahim Barry, who was detained in Mopti by gendarmes, disappeared after his arrest. Barry’s whereabouts remained unknown at year’s end and there was no information on any investigation.

On August 1, following the July clashes between GATIA and CMA around Kidal, two common graves containing seven and two persons, respectively, were discovered in the Anefis area. Investigations were incomplete.

HRW also documented 27 cases of enforced disappearance during the reporting period in central Mali in which the detainees were last seen in the custody of security forces. According to HRW the government had yet to provide families with information on missing relatives who had been detained. The chief of defense announced plans to investigate these incidents and transmitted instructions to comply with the investigation to all commanders in the field in October, one month after the HRW findings were publicized.

Human rights observers were unable to verify the whereabouts of dozens of prisoners purportedly detained in connection with the northern conflict due to possible unreported deaths in custody, alleged surreptitious releases, and suspected clandestine transfer of prisoners to the government’s intelligence service, the General Directorate of State Security (DGSE). Human rights organizations estimated the DGSE held 60 unacknowledged detainees.

There was limited progress in the prosecution of the suspects, including coup leader Sanogo, for the forced disappearance, torture, and killing of 21 Red Berets, including former junta member Colonel Youssouf Traore, following a mutiny in 2013 (see section 1.a.).

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The constitution and statutory law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, but there were reports that soldiers employed them against individuals with suspected links to extremist groups including Ansar al-Dine, al-Murabitoun, and the Macina Liberation Front (see section 1.g.). There were reports that Islamist groups perpetrated sexual violence.

According to HRW, armed forces tortured dozens of men that they suspected of supporting Islamist armed groups. The detainees were hogtied, beaten, lashed with belts, burned, and repeatedly threatened with death. Detainees stated that they were routinely denied food, water, and medical care.

For example, according to HRW, on June 23, army and National Guard units based in and around Boni arrested and tortured three traders whom they accused of supporting armed Islamists. The torturers threatened to kill the traders, severely beat them, and held the head of at least one trader to a truck exhaust pipe, resulting in serious and visible burns.

HRW noted allegations of torture by military forces, particularly against members of the Fulani (Peuhl) ethnic group in the central part of the country. In one incident, military personnel arrested 11 local Fulani following attacks in the Mopti Region during the first half of the year. According to human rights observers, three of the 11 died during detention at the Nampala military base, and others showed signs of torture. As of October authorities had not brought charges against the soldiers reportedly responsible.

The case against a soldier who allegedly raped a 13-year-old girl in August 2014 remained open. The military released the suspect in September 2014 and, at year’s end, had not responded to requests by the civilian prosecutor to produce the suspect for trial. Despite the military’s lack of cooperation, the prosecutor continued to pursue the case. There was one allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse against a Chadian soldier serving in the UN peacekeeping mission.

There was limited progress in investigations into the 2012 disappearance, torture, and killing of 21 Red Berets (see section 1.a.).

As of November 28, the United Nations received one allegation during the year of sexual exploitation and abuse against a Malian police officer serving with the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti between 2010 and 2011. The allegation of an exploitative relationship was substantiated.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. The government took steps to improve staff training. In August the government launched a nine billion CFA ($16.5 million) construction project for a new prison in Kenioroba, 30 miles south of Bamako. The prison was designed for 2,500 inmates and to meet international standards for detainees’ human rights.

Physical Conditions: As of October the Bamako Central Prison held 1,964 prisoners in a facility designed to hold 400. Detainees were separated by gender. Detention conditions were better in women’s prisons than in those for men. Authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. Authorities detained 88 persons arrested on charges related to terrorism in the high-security division of Bamako Central Prison and in Koulikoro. Authorities may hold arrested individuals for up to 72 hours in police stations, where there were no separate holding areas for men, women, or children.

As of October, 34 prisoners and detainees had died. The National Commission for Human Rights (CNDH), a semi-independent entity within the Ministry of Justice, attributed the deaths to unhealthy prison conditions. Similar to previous years, approximately half of the 34 died from heart attacks; the remainder died from malaria, HIV/AIDS, and dehydration. Inadequate security mechanisms and a general lack of resources prevented authorities from maintaining control of prisons.

Prison food, when provided, was insufficient in both quality and quantity, and medical facilities were inadequate. Lack of sanitation continued to pose the most significant threat to prisoners’ health. Buckets served as toilets. Not all prisons had access to potable water. Ventilation, lighting, and temperature were comparable with many poor urban homes.

Administration: Authorities did not use alternative sentencing for nonviolent offenders.

Authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints, either directly or through the Office of the Ombudsman of the Republic, to judicial authorities without censorship to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions. Although prisoners voiced verbal complaints during prison inspections by the CNDH, prisoners filed no formal complaints due to illiteracy, lack of knowledge regarding complaint mechanisms, skepticism regarding the utility of making such complaints, and fear of retaliation. The CNDH, charged with visiting prisons and ensuring humane conditions, visited prisoners in Bamako Central Prison within one week of request. The CNDH did not regularly visit prisons outside of Bamako, and its last visit to a military detention center occurred in 2012. The government’s Directorate for National Penitentiary Administration investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions. Detainees had reasonable access to visitors and could observe their religious practices.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by human rights monitors, and human rights organizations conducted visits during the year. The government required nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and other monitors to submit a request to the prison director, who then forwarded it to the Ministry of Justice. The Malian Association for Human Rights visited prisons in Kati, Bamako, and other locations outside the north. Human rights observers with MINUSMA and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) regularly visited the centers holding CMA and Platform members. ICRC officials also visited prisons in Bamako, Kayes, Sikasso, Koulikoro, Gao, and Timbuktu.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and statutory law generally prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention. Nevertheless, government security forces, Platform, and CMA forces detained and arrested numerous individuals in connection with the ongoing northern conflict, particularly in the wake of clashes between CMA and GATIA in Kidal and terrorist attacks in the Timbuktu, Mopti, and Segou regions. Security forces also arbitrarily arrested those suspected of supporting Islamist armed groups, primarily in the center of the country (see section 1.g.).


Security forces include the National Police, the Malian Armed Forces (FAMA), the National Gendarmerie, National Guard, and the DGSE. FAMA, the National Gendarmerie, and the National Guard are administratively under the Ministry of Defense, although operational control of the National Guard and National Gendarmerie is shared with the Ministry of Internal Security and Civil Protection. Police officers have responsibility for law enforcement and maintaining order in urban areas, while gendarmes have that responsibility in rural areas. The army occasionally performed domestic security operations in northern areas where police and gendarmes were absent. The National Guard has specialized border security units, which were largely ineffective. The responsibilities of the Ministry of Internal Security and Civil Protection include maintaining order during exceptional circumstances, such as national disasters or riots. The DGSE has authority to investigate any case and temporarily detain persons at the discretion of its director general. It usually did so only in terrorism and national security cases.

The National Police lacked resources and training. Corruption was a problem, and traffic police officers frequently arrested and released drivers in exchange for bribes.

MINUSMA’s mandate includes ensuring security, protecting civilians, assisting the reestablishment of government authority, and the rebuilding of the security sector. The mission worked to expand its presence, including through longer-range patrols, in northern regions beyond key population centers, notably in areas where civilians were at risk. MINUSMA’s mandate also includes providing specific protection for women and children affected by armed conflict and addressing the needs of victims of sexual and gender-based violence in armed conflict. MINUSMA’s role extended to anticipating, preventing, mitigating, and resolving issues related to the northern conflict by monitoring violence, assisting in investigations, and reporting to the UN Security Council on abuses or violations of human rights or international humanitarian law committed in the country.

The French military counterterrorism operation Barkhane continued. The operation had a regional focus, undertaking counterterrorism activities in Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Niger. Approximately 1,000 French soldiers conducted counterterrorism operations in collaboration with FAMA in northern Mali.

Civilian authorities failed at times to maintain effective control over the security forces. Particularly in the north, during the year there were many reports of impunity involving security forces. Mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption by security forces generally were not effective.

A commission of inquiry established in 2014 by the Ministry of Defense investigated security force killings to determine whether they constituted violations of the military code of justice or of criminal law. The commission referred cases involving human rights abuse to the prosecutor general for criminal trial. By year’s end, however, the commission had completed no investigations into alleged human rights abuses committed by soldiers redeployed to the north.


The law requires judicial warrants for arrest. The law requires police officers to charge suspects or release them within 48 hours. While police usually secured warrants based on sufficient evidence and a duly authorized official issued the warrant, this did not always occur. The law provides for the transfer of detainees from police stations to the prosecutor’s office within 72 hours of arrest, but authorities sometimes held detainees longer in police stations. Authorities may grant detainees, who have limited rights of bail, conditional liberty, particularly for minor crimes and civil matters. Authorities occasionally released defendants on their own recognizance.

Detainees have the right to a lawyer of their choice or a state-provided lawyer if indigent. Nevertheless, a shortage of lawyers–particularly outside Bamako and Mopti–often prevented access to legal representation.

Arbitrary Arrest: HRW documented the detention of 114 men, primarily ethnic Fulani, by security forces in central Mali between December 2016 and June. The detainees were held because security forces suspected them of supporting Islamist armed groups. Most were released because of insufficient evidence after their cases were reviewed in Bamako by the Special Judicial Cell to Combat Terrorism and Transnational Organized Crime.

Human rights organizations reported widespread allegations of arbitrary arrest and detention. In many cases gendarmes detained suspects on DGSE orders and then transferred them for questioning to the DGSE, which generally held suspects for hours or days. The transfer process itself, however, sometimes took more than a week, during which time security services did not inform detainees of the charges against them. Authorities did not provide released detainees transport back to the location of their arrest, a trip that often required several days of travel. These detentions often occurred in the wake of attacks by bandits or terrorists and targeted members of the ethnic group suspected of carrying out the raids.

Pretrial Detention: The law provides for trial for charged detainees within three months for misdemeanors and one year for felonies, but lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. Judicial inefficiency, the large number of detainees, corruption, and staff shortages contributed to the problem. Individuals sometimes remained in prison for several years before their cases came to trial. Approximately 70 percent of inmates awaited trial.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law allows detainees to challenge the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention in court. Individuals were generally released promptly if they won the challenge, but the law does not provide for compensation or recourse against the government.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the executive branch continued to exert influence over the judicial system. Corruption and limited resources affected the fairness of trials. Bribery and influence peddling were widespread in the courts, according to domestic human rights groups.

There were problems enforcing court orders. Sometimes judges were absent from their assigned areas for months at a time. Village chiefs and justices of the peace appointed by the government decided the majority of disputes in rural areas. Justices of the peace had investigative, prosecutorial, and judicial functions. These traditional systems did not provide the same rights as civil and criminal courts.


The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right. Nevertheless, proceedings often were delayed, and some defendants waited years for their trials to begin. The law presumes defendants are innocent and have the right to prompt and detailed information on the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Except in the case of minors and sensitive family cases, trials generally were public.

Defendants have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice (or to have one provided at public expense in felony cases and those involving minors). When a court declares a defendant indigent, it provides an attorney at public expense and the court waives all fees. Administrative backlogs and an insufficient number of lawyers, particularly in rural areas, often prevented prompt access. Defendants and their attorneys have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, access government-held evidence, confront witnesses, and present one’s own witnesses and evidence. The government generally respected these rights. Defendants may not be compelled to testify against themselves or confess guilt and may appeal decisions to the Appellate Court and the Supreme Court. The law extends these rights to all citizens.


There were reports of political prisoners or detainees.

According to MINUSMA, authorities used warrants to arrest and detain 89 persons during the year in connection with the conflict in the northern and central parts of the country. As of July 31, 239 individuals arrested on terrorism charges remained in detention in State owned facilities. Some of those detained were believed to be political prisoners. The government typically detained conflict-related prisoners in higher-security facilities within prisons and provided them the same protection as other prisoners. International human rights and humanitarian organizations had access to most of these centers, but not to detainees held in facilities operated by the DGSE.


Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations. They may appeal their cases to the Economic Community of West African States’ Court of Justice and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. In cases of traditional slavery, there were reports that civil court orders were sometimes difficult to enforce.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

The formerly separatist forces including the MNLA, HCUA, and MAA; northern militias that shared interests with the government including GATIA; and extremist organizations including JNIM, AQIM, the Macina Liberation Front, and al-Murabitoun, committed serious human rights abuses in the northern and central regions. These included arbitrary killings, abuse, and disappearances. Most military abuses targeted Fulani, Tuareg, and Arab individuals and were in reprisal for attacks attributed to armed groups associated with those ethnicities. Jihadist groups, the CMA alliance of the MNLA, HCUA, and MAA, and militias in the Platform, such as GATIA, held hostages and used child soldiers. On August 11, nine child soldiers identified among GATIA members following a week of clashes between CMA and GATIA were identified as victims and handed over to MINUSMA in Kidal.

Government and French troops targeted terrorist organizations–including AQIM, Ansar al-Dine, MLF, and al-Murabitoun–that were not party to the peace talks or resulting accord. These terrorist organizations maintained links to armed groups participating in the peace process.

Ethnic Fulani in the central Mopti and Segou regions reported abuse by government forces. According to Human Rights Watch, on January 21, soldiers allegedly executed three Fulani men taken into custody in the village of Yirma. Human Rights Watch also documented several cases of torture or severe mistreatment of detainees during the year. Most military abuses that targeted Fulani, Tuareg, and Arab persons were in reprisal for attacks attributed to armed groups associated with those ethnicities.

Attacks by armed groups that signed the 2015 accord were sporadic and localized for much of the year. In July and August, battles between different tribal groups in the Menaka area included attacks that targeted civilians. The most serious fighting occurred in July, in the Kidal Region, between CMA and GATIA/Platform forces and resulted in the deaths of more than 100 persons, including civilians.

Terrorist groups continued their activities in the northern and central parts of the country. In August Aliou Mahamar Toure, former chief of the “Islamic Police of Gao” during the 2012 occupation and member of the Movement for the Unity of Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison for terrorism, torture, illegal possession of weapons and attack on internal security. Impunity for serious crimes committed in the north continued, however, including for crimes carried out by terrorist groups.

The government lacked sufficient resources to pursue and investigate cases in the north.

Killings: The military, former rebel groups, northern militias whose interests aligned with the government, and terrorist organizations killed persons throughout the country, but primarily in the northern and central regions.

Unidentified individuals or groups were responsible for many attacks. For example, on February 11, unidentified armed individuals killed a Bambara shopkeeper near the town of Ke-Macina in the Segou region.

Intercommunal violence related to disputes over transhumance (seasonal migration) and cattle grazing occurred among Dogon, Bambara, and Fulani in the Mopti Region, Bambara and Fulani in the Segou region, and between various Tuareg and Arab groups in the regions of Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal (see section 6).

Numerous attacks on MINUSMA peacekeepers resulted in deaths and injuries. As of October 30, 23 MINUSMA peacekeepers had been killed during the year. On August 14, one Togolese peacekeeper died and one was injured as a result of an attack on their camp in Douentza. On the same day two other MINUSMA peacekeepers were seriously injured during an attack on the MINUSMA camp in Timbuktu. Ansar al-Dine claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Abductions: On February 7, JNIM forces kidnapped a Colombian missionary, Cecilia Narvaez Argoti, in Koutiala, in the south; she remained in captivity at year’s end. Amadou Djoum, a Malian civil servant, who was captured on April 25 by MLF in the central region, was released on September 14 after 128 days of captivity. In October, JNIM released a video of 11 soldiers in captivity.

On July 24, the MLF kidnapped an imam in the region of Mopti for preaching for peace, unity, and national reconciliation. The imam remained in captivity at year’s end.

Child Soldiers: In 2013 the government and the United Nations signed a protocol agreement to protect children associated with armed conflict. The protocol established a procedure to transfer such children to an interim care center operated by UNICEF. At year’s end the interim care center remained open and hosted 11 former child soldiers, while authorities reportedly had reunited several other detained children with their families.

With the support of MINUSMA, in 2013 MAA and MNLA leaders signed an agreement prohibiting the recruitment of children and allowing MINUSMA to screen their troops in September 2014. No subsequent official screenings occurred, and MINUSMA continued to observe children in the ranks of the CMA, the umbrella organization that includes the MAA and MNLA.

According to MINUSMA, between January and August, GATIA recruited at least nine children. The children, between the ages of 15 and 17, were identified by CMA combatants following the July clashes with GATIA in the Kidal region. The children were transferred to the ICRC and MINUSMA on August 11.

Despite the government’s 2013 interministerial protocol that requires authorities to direct former child soldiers to rehabilitation centers, at least seven children remained in state-run detention facilities, including adult prisons, for association with armed groups; some of the children had been in detention since 2014. An international organization identified and referred to the National Directorate for the Promotion of Children and Families four former child combatants for care. The former child combatants were associated with GATIA and aged 14 to 17. Contrary to government protocol, the directorate transferred the four former child combatants back to a government official with ties to GATIA to facilitate family reintegration. It is unclear if the children were reunited with their families.

Most children recruited were boys, but reports indicated girls might also have been recruited and later forced to serve as sex slaves.

Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at

Other Conflict-related Abuse: Attacks on international organizations and peacekeepers occurred.

In April members of Ansar al-Dine kidnapped four ICRC workers north of the city of Kidal in retaliation for the arrests of several terrorism suspects by members of Barkhane, the French military counterterrorism operation. The ICRC workers were released the day after Barkhane freed the terror suspects.

On April 29, unidentified assailants attacked a Danish Refugee Council convoy between Dorey and N’Tillit, injuring three humanitarian workers.

On August 22, unidentified assailants attacked a convoy of the Office for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), injuring two UN humanitarian staff, in the central region. UNHCR’s field office head and driver sustained gunshot and shrapnel injuries after their UN-marked vehicle was attacked on the Timbuktu airport road.

Since 2013, when MINUSMA’s mission began, more than 100 MINUSMA personnel have been killed.

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