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MALI: Tier 2 Watch List

The Government of Mali does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. These efforts included prosecuting hereditary slavery cases for the first time, increasing convictions, and continuing training and awareness raising activities. The government took measures to address child soldier issues by releasing all children verified to be associated with the Malian armed forces (FAMa) to an international organization for care; collaborating with an international organization to train security and law enforcement officials on protection of children in armed conflict, including handover protocols; and partnering with an international organization to identify 215 children used by armed groups in the reporting period and refer most of those children to international organizations for care, as part of its continued efforts under its disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration plan with the UN. However, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period. For the first time, observers verified a unit of FAMa recruited and used children in support roles. The government continued to provide support to and collaborate with the Imghad Tuareg and Allies Self-Defense Group (GATIA), a non-governmental armed group headed by a Malian general that recruited and used child soldiers, although reportedly in smaller numbers than in the past. The government did not investigate any suspects, including government officials, for child soldiering offenses or make efforts to prevent armed groups from recruiting and using children. Law enforcement continued to lack resources and understanding of human trafficking, which impeded law enforcement efforts. Shelter and services for victims, especially male victims, remained insufficient and primarily restricted to Bamako. Therefore Mali was downgraded to Tier 2 Watch List.

Ensure FAMa has ceased unlawful use of children and investigate any reports of military personnel’s use of children, including in support roles.Cease support to armed groups that unlawfully recruit and use children and hold criminally accountable any individuals or officials complicit in child soldiering.As part of the peace process, engage with non-governmental armed groups to cease recruitment and use of children.Expand and strengthen implementation of programs for the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of former child combatants that address specific needs of child ex-combatants, including psycho-social care, family reintegration, education, and vocational training, and release any children inappropriately detained.Vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses and convict and punish traffickers, including complicit officials, with sentences prescribed in the 2012 anti-trafficking law.Allocate dedicated budgets, resources, and personnel to the anti-trafficking committee and institutionalize monthly meetings of the anti-trafficking committee to improve operationalization of anti-trafficking policies and inter-ministerial coordination.Screen vulnerable populations for trafficking indicators and refer them to appropriate services, including children associated with armed groups, individuals in commercial sex, North Korean workers, and communities vulnerable to hereditary slavery.Develop and train officials on standardized mechanisms to identify trafficking victims.Train and equip law enforcement on effective, victim-centered investigation techniques and ensure trauma-sensitive approaches are taken when interviewing victims.Regularly train judges and prosecutors on the 2012 anti-trafficking law and standardize refreshment trainings.Provide funding and in-kind support to NGOs that help identify and assist trafficking victims.

The government maintained inadequate law enforcement efforts. Law 2012-023 Relating to the Combat against Trafficking in Persons and Similar Practices, as amended, criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking. The law prescribed penalties of five to 10 years’ imprisonment for trafficking offenses, except forced begging, for which it prescribed lesser penalties of two to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 to two million West African CFA francs (FCFA) ($860 to $3,440). These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape. Government officials and NGOs reported that the law could not be effectively implemented to prosecute trafficking cases involving hereditary slavery because hereditary slavery is not precisely defined in the law. In July 2019, the government collaborated with an international organization to revise the anti-trafficking law; government stakeholders were reviewing the draft legislation at the end of the reporting period.

As in the previous reporting periods, the justice minister issued a decree instructing judicial personnel to prioritize prosecutions of cases under the 2012 law. Law enforcement data was incomplete and otherwise difficult to obtain due to a lack of a centralized mechanism to collect comprehensive anti-trafficking law enforcement statistics. The government reported investigating at least 40 new cases, including 30 cases involving hereditary slavery, and continuing 35 investigations begun in previous reporting periods, compared with 17 investigations during the previous reporting period. The government prosecuted 34 cases involving 61 defendants and continued six prosecutions initiated during previous reporting periods, compared with 37 cases involving 55 defendants during the previous reporting period. The majority of cases prosecuted were sex trafficking cases, although prosecutions included hereditary slavery cases. The government convicted 13 traffickers, including five Nigerians for sex trafficking and two Malian slaveholders, an increase from one conviction in the previous reporting period. Courts sentenced the five Nigerian sex traffickers to between 18 months’ to two years’ imprisonment, while the two convicted slaveholders each received two year suspended sentences and 150,000 FCFA ($260) fines. NGOs observed this is the first time the government had prosecuted cases involving hereditary slavery. In October 2019, the Brigade de Moeurs of the National Police, gendarmerie, and INTERPOL conducted a joint operation in artisanal gold mines in Kangaba and Bamako, which resulted in the arrest of three sex trafficking suspects and two forced labor suspects; Nigeria’s National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons provided interpretation support. The Brigade de Moeurs was the primary law enforcement agency investigating sex trafficking and cases involving minors. The Specialized Judiciary Brigade and Specialized Investigative Brigade investigated other forms of human trafficking but were not adequately trained or resourced. In October 2019, a foreign donor assisted the government to establish the Migrant Smuggling and Trafficking Brigade, a police force focused primarily on transnational trafficking and migrant smuggling.

During the reporting period, an international organization trained 257 government officials, including shelter staff, judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement on victim identification with limited government support. A foreign donor supported an NGO to train 27 justice sector actors on victim-centered investigations and prosecutions involving hereditary slavery. In October 2019, an international organization provided training to judicial officials, security forces, and law enforcement on protection of children affected by armed conflict, including referral and handover protocols for children associated with armed groups. However, frequent turnover and transfers of officials limited the impact of the training. Despite these efforts, continued lack of awareness of the 2012 anti-trafficking law stymied law enforcement action. Additionally, the police’s system-wide lack of funding and resources, including vehicles and equipment to investigate crimes, impeded anti-trafficking efforts. The government had limited or no judicial presence in four of the country’s eight regions, primarily in the north and center of the country, due to continuing security challenges. Insufficient funding limited regular sessions of the Court of Assizes—where all serious criminal felony cases, including trafficking, were heard—and caused significant delays to trafficking cases. Observers alleged government officials interfered in hereditary slavery cases in an effort to have charges dismissed and at times threatened community members following arrests for hereditary slavery. The government dropped charges for lack of evidence against two Malian police officers brought in the previous reporting periods; the officers had allegedly assisted a former diplomat from Democratic Republic of the Congo to facilitate the transportation of Congolese girls to African, European, and Asian countries for exploitation. A foreign government alleged Malian law enforcement returned two trafficking victims to their trafficker and reported a case where law enforcement officers allegedly coerced victims to pay bribes to police to secure their release from their traffickers. During the reporting period, observers verified for the first time that FAMa recruited and used 24 children between the ages of 9 and 14 years old in support roles in Gao region as couriers and domestic help; FAMa released all 24 children to their families and an international organization for care in November 2019. In February 2020, an international organization reported unconfirmed allegations FAMa recruited and used an additional 21 children in support roles in Gao region. The non-governmental armed group GATIA, led by a Malian general, continued recruiting and using child soldiers during the reporting period; an international organization verified one child recruited and used by GATIA during the reporting period, compared with at least 22 children during the previous reporting period. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of corrupt and complicit officials or traffickers for any child soldiering offenses or other trafficking crimes.

The government decreased efforts to identify and protect trafficking victims. Government officials and NGO partners identified 64 sex trafficking victims and 106 potential trafficking victims during the reporting period, compared with 122 trafficking victims and 46 potential victims during the previous reporting period. Authorities identified 64 sex trafficking victims from Nigeria, Guinea, and Burkina Faso in an artisanal gold mine in Kangaba and in Bamako. In addition, the government and an international organization identified at least 215 children associated with armed groups. The government did not have standardized mechanisms to identify trafficking victims.

The government did not have a formal referral mechanism but worked closely with the Fodé and Yeguine Network for Action (RAFY), a national network composed of NGOs, international organizations, and government ministries, including the Ministry for the Advancement of Women, Children, and the Family (MFFE), to refer identified trafficking victims to service providers. RAFY reported the network did not adequately function during the reporting period due to poor coordination between members. With some government assistance, RAFY assisted 106 trafficking victims during the reporting period. Of those 106 assisted, 28 were foreign national children (eight girls and 20 boys). In addition, 64 foreign national adults (10 women and 54 men) were assisted by RAFY, including 18 from Pakistan, nine from Bangladesh, eight from India, three from Sri Lanka, five from Sudan, two from Cameroon, and 19 from other West African countries. RAFY identified 13 potential Malian child trafficking victims during the reporting period. Services varied by location but generally included shelter, food, counseling, vocational training, repatriation, and reintegration assistance. Most service providers were NGOs, and the government relied on these NGOs to provide the majority of services, funded by private and international donors. An international organization assessed services for victims remained inadequate during the reporting period. MFFE had general care facilities that could assist trafficking victims; the government did not report whether these facilities assisted trafficking victims during the reporting period. Shelter capacity was limited with only one shelter available to victims in Bamako. Shelters and services for victims outside the capital remained limited, especially in the north. Foreign and domestic victims received the same services, and while some facilities could offer specialized services for females, there were no such services for males. In collaboration with international organizations, the government also coordinated repatriation for at least one Malian child exploited in Senegal by providing family reintegration and travel documents. The Nigerian consulate in Bamako coordinated with an international organization to assist approximately 337 Nigerian victims during the reporting period with shelter, basic services, and repatriation.

The government did not offer legal alternatives to removal to countries in which victims would face retribution or hardship; however, most identified victims were ECOWAS nationals who did not require special status to remain in Mali. The government did not have formal policies to encourage victims to participate in trials against their traffickers. In addition, sources reported the government rushed victims to provide their statements in trauma-insensitive methods due to fears victims would be unavailable or unwilling to provide future statements once they entered NGO and international organization shelters. Victims could file civil suits against their traffickers, but the government did not report that any did so during the reporting period, in part due to victims’ lack of awareness of this avenue of redress. Malian law protected victims from being fined, detained, or otherwise penalized for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit; however, due to a lack of formal identification procedures, some victims may have remained unidentified within the law enforcement system. Authorities continued following the government’s 2013 inter-ministerial protocol requiring them to direct former child soldiers to rehabilitation centers; however, most officials trained on the protocol were transferred to other positions. Under a DDR agreement with an international organization, the government and international organization partners reported identifying 215 children used by non-state armed groups in the reporting period and referred most of those children to international organizations for care; however, an international organization reported 39 children were inappropriately detained for alleged affiliation with non-state armed groups during the reporting period. During the previous reporting period, the government and international organization reported identifying and referring to care 114 children used by armed groups. An international organization reported concerns the government held some children, including potential trafficking victims, with adults in military detention centers, which increased their vulnerability to further exploitation.

The government maintained weak efforts to prevent trafficking. The government continued implementing the 2018-2022 National Plan of Action (NPA) to Combat Trafficking in Persons during the reporting period. The national anti-trafficking committee met three times during the reporting period, but the lack of coordination and ownership for activities in the action plan among committee members impeded its effectiveness. There is no dedicated staff in the government to work on trafficking, including the chairman of the anti-trafficking committee, which severely impeded the government’s efforts to consistently coordinate anti-trafficking activities. The government allocated 200 million FCFA ($343,640) for anti-trafficking efforts, the same amount allocated the previous year. With this funding, the government conducted activities outlined in the 2018-2022 NPA such as anti-trafficking trainings and awareness-raising activities in coordination with NGOs. In November 2019, the anti-trafficking committee trained members of the Malian Bar Association on the 2012 anti-trafficking law with the support of a foreign donor. The government also conducted awareness-raising sessions on child forced begging for community leaders and Quranic teachers in Gao and Timbuktu. During the reporting period, the UN and non-governmental armed groups, including GATIA, drafted an action plan to cease recruitment and use of children; at the end of the reporting period, the UN approved the draft action plan and it was pending signature from the leadership of each armed group. The police had a hotline for crimes against women and children, although it did not report receiving any trafficking cases during the reporting period. The government did not make efforts to address the fraudulent recruitment of Malians abroad, and labor inspectors remained without sufficient capacity or resources to regulate the informal sector, where most cases of forced labor occurred. The government did not make efforts to decrease the demand for commercial sex acts. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Mali, and traffickers exploit victims from Mali abroad. Some families sell their children into domestic servitude or forced labor in gold mines. Internal trafficking is more prevalent than transnational trafficking. Labor traffickers exploit boys from Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso in agriculture—especially rice, cotton, dry cereal, and corn cultivation—artisanal gold mines, domestic work, transportation, begging, and the informal commercial sector. Corrupt Quranic teachers also coerce and force Malian boys to beg or perform agricultural work in neighboring countries, including Senegal, Guinea, and Cote d’Ivoire. Slaveholders subject some members of Mali’s black Tuareg community to slavery practices rooted in traditional relationships of hereditary servitude. An NGO noted hereditary slavery practices in Mali differ from surrounding countries because, in Mali, it is communities which exploit the enslaved rather than individuals or families. Traffickers exploit men and boys, primarily of Songhai ethnicity, in a long-standing practice of debt bondage in the salt mines of Taoudeni in northern Mali. NGO reports indicate Malian children endure forced labor on cotton and cocoa farms in Cote d’Ivoire. Malian women and girls are victims of sex trafficking in Gabon, Libya, Lebanon, and Tunisia and domestic servitude in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia. Traffickers recruit women and girls from other West African countries, particularly Nigeria and Benin, with promises of jobs as nurses or waitresses in Bamako but instead exploit them in sex trafficking throughout Mali, especially in small mining communities. In January 2019, Nigerian authorities estimated more than 20,000 Nigerian girls are victims of sex trafficking in Mali, although this data has not been corroborated. An NGO reported an increased number of traffickers exploiting girls in sex trafficking since 2005. Traffickers compel women and girls into sex trafficking and forced labor in domestic work, agricultural labor, and support roles in artisanal gold mines. Reports allege corruption and complicity among local police and gendarmes in Farako may have facilitated forced labor and sex trafficking in mining communities. Africans transiting Mali to Europe, primarily via Algeria and Libya and less so via Mauritania, are vulnerable to trafficking, and Nigerian traffickers exploit Nigerian women in sex trafficking in Mali en route to Europe. An international organization repatriated 147 Malians from Algeria and 1,305 Malians from Libya in 2019, compared with more than 1,430 Malians from Libya in 2017; while some returnees were identified as trafficking victims in 2017, the international organization determined none of the 2019 returnees were trafficking victims. North Koreans working in Mali may have been forced to work by the North Korean government.

During the reporting period, the government did not exercise control over the majority of its territory and lost ground it had previously regained. Justice officials had no or an extremely limited presence in four of Mali’s eight regions, limiting the government’s ability to provide justice, victim services, and gather data. Since early 2012, rebel and Islamic extremist groups have occupied parts of northern Mali. Terrorist organizations and armed groups continue to recruit and use children, mostly boys, in combat, requiring children to carry weapons, staff checkpoints, guard prisoners, and conduct patrols; some used boys for running errands and spying. Some of these groups used girls in combat, support roles, and for sexual exploitation, including sexual slavery through forced marriages to members of these militias. The armed groups purportedly coerce some families to sell their children to the groups or compelled communities into giving up teenage boys to the groups for “community protection.” An international organization reported traffickers fraudulently recruited some children for education in Quranic schools but forced them to fight with armed groups. Some families reportedly insert their children into the ranks of armed groups because parents believe they will benefit from disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration assistance. In the past, a Malian armed group forcibly recruited Malian refugees in Mauritania to be child soldiers in Mali. The government provided in-kind support to and collaborated with GATIA, a non-governmental armed group led by a Malian general that used and recruited at least one child during the reporting period. In 2016, an international organization investigated GATIA officials, Malian Defense and Security Forces officers, and civilians for conflict-related sexual violence, including sex trafficking and sexual slavery. During the reporting period, FAMa recruited and used at least 24 children between the ages of 9 and 14 years old in support roles in Gao region as couriers and domestic help.

U.S. Department of State

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