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 also section 1.g.). The gendarmerie is responsible for conducting initial investigations into security forces. Cases are then transferred to the Ministry of Justice for investigations into alleged police violence or to the Ministry of Defense’s military tribunal for investigations into alleged military abuses. Depending on the infraction and the capacity of the military tribunal, some cases related to military abuses may be processed by the Ministry of Justice.
In reports dated March 26, June 1, and October 1, the UN secretary-general documented that as of August 26, a total of 871 attacks against civilians resulted in the death of 484 civilians, 385 injuries, and 383 abductions. The reports also mentioned 1,556 human rights abuses, including 65 extrajudicial killings, 73 cases of torture, and 444 abductions and or involuntary or enforced disappearances. For example, the March 26 report stated that on March 18, members of the Malian Armed Forces (FAMa) summarily executed two men, injured four other men, and mistreated at least 30 persons in Boni in the Douentza area.
Attacks by extremist groups and criminal elements occurred in the northern regions, in the central part of the country, and in the west. Extremist groups frequently employed improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to target civilians as well as government and international security forces. IEDs were also used repeatedly to target important infrastructure, including major national roads, cutting off communities from humanitarian assistance, important trade routes, and security forces. On February 10, unidentified armed individuals used IEDs to attack a temporary base of the United Nation’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). The attack seriously injured several peacekeepers. On May 31, an IED boobytrap exploded, killing at least five persons in the village of Petaka in the Douentza area. On August 15, a FAMa vehicle hit an IED in the Menaka Region, killing three FAMa soldiers.
Terrorist groups, signatory and nonsignatory armed groups to the Algiers Accord, and ethnic militias committed numerous arbitrary killings related to the internal conflict. According to the UN secretary-general’s March 26, June 1, and October 1 reports to the UN Security Council, terrorist elements were allegedly responsible for 675 human rights abuses, including killings. Signatory armed groups to the Algiers Accord, including the armed group Platform of Movements (Platform) and the armed group Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), were allegedly responsible for at least 76 human rights abuses, including killings, while nonsignatory armed groups were allegedly responsible for at least 356 human rights abuses, including killings.
On March 30, MINUSMA’s Human Rights and Protection Division (HRPD) released a report on the findings of the human rights investigation into a January 3 air strike in Bounti by French forces that killed at least 22 persons, including 19 civilians. At least eight other persons were injured by the air strike. In a March 30 communique, the French Ministry of Armed Forces expressed reservations about the methodology used by the United Nations, stated that the report was based on “unverifiable local testimonies” and “unsubstantiated hypotheses,” and maintained that the strike had targeted a terrorist group.
Following an April 2 terrorist attack against the MINUSMA base in Aguelhok, killing four peacekeepers and injuring at least 34, peacekeeping forces allegedly killed three persons in Aguelhok that same day. The local population protested, claiming the victims were civilians and demanding MINUSMA relocate its base and clarify the circumstances of the killings. MINUSMA’s HRPD noted in its August 30 report that the circumstances of the killings remained unclear.
The UN secretary-general reports also alleged that on April 27, Nigerien armed forces summarily executed at least 19 civilian men during a cross-border operation in Mali’s Menaka Region.
On July 21, a unit of the anticriminality brigade of the National Police allegedly shot and killed a boy age 17, Abdoulaye Keita, in Bamako. The incident prompted protests in the Lafiabougou neighborhood and led to the arrest of six police officers for homicide. At the end of the year, the Commune IV Tribunal of High Instance in Bamako was investigating these alleged crimes.
On September 3, authorities indicted and arrested Oumar Samake, commander of the Special Antiterrorist Force, on charges of murder and assault and battery in connection with the repression of social unrest by security forces in July 2020. After police officers protested the arrest and stormed a prison where Samake had previously been held, Samake was released. On September 6, following several meetings among Samake, police union leaders, the director general of police, and the minister of security, Samake voluntarily surrendered to the gendarmerie in Bamako. He remained in custody as of November.
According to Human Rights Watch, between October 1 and 5, members of the security forces, later identified as FAMa, arrested at least 34 men in and around the town of Sofara in Mopti Region, allegedly in response to an uptick in attacks by terrorist groups, notably an October 1 attack in nearby Marebougou. Three of the arrested men were found dead a few miles from the Sofara military camp on or around October 11, according to local witnesses. In an October 13 communique, FAMa stated that 22 “presumed terrorists” had been transferred from FAMa custody to the gendarmerie for investigation (see also sections 1.b. and 1.c.).
There were numerous reports of forced disappearances believed to have been carried out by extremist groups and, in some instances, by the defense and security forces (MDSF) in the central and northern regions of the country. MINUSMA’s HRPD reported that the MDSF were responsible for 29 forced disappearances between January and June.
Human rights observers reported they were unable to verify the whereabouts of dozens of prisoners purportedly detained in connection with the northern conflict. The limited capacity of the Penitentiary Administration to keep accurate records made it difficult to locate individuals within the country’s penal system. Human rights organizations estimated that the General Directorate for State Security (DGSE), the intelligence agency, held at least 60 unacknowledged detainees, but these organizations noted they did not have access to the DGSE’s facilities to verify the estimates. COVID-19 pandemic restrictions prevented many organizations from visiting prisons. Despite being denied access to DGSE facilities, the National Commission for Human Rights (CNDH) reported improved access to detention centers and sensitive detainees.
As of mid-November, the whereabouts of seven of the individuals arrested in October by FAMa in Sofara (see also section 1.a.) remained unknown.
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 reports indicated that FAMa soldiers employed these tactics against individuals with suspected links to extremist groups, including groups affiliated with Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) (see also section 1.g.). The UN secretary-general’s March 26, June 1, and October 1 reports noted 73 instances of torture or cruel and inhuman treatment committed by the MDSF, signatory armed groups, militias, violent extremists, or unidentified armed actors during the first six months of the year.
In response to a video showing mistreatment of a suspect by four uniformed men, an October 13 communique from FAMa related to October arrests in Sofara (see also section 1.a.) pledged to investigate the alleged mistreatment, noting that FAMa had imposed disciplinary actions on the officers involved and that legal proceedings pertaining to their cases were pending with the gendarmerie.
Impunity was a significant problem in the defense and security forces, including FAMa, according to allegations from Amnesty International, MINUSMA’s HRPD, and various nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The Ministry of Defense reportedly ordered investigations into several of the allegations made against FAMa, but the government provided limited information regarding the scope, progress, or findings of these investigations. The lack of transparency in the investigative process, the extended length of time required to order and complete an investigation, the absence of security force prosecutions related to human rights abuses, and limited visibility of outcomes of the few cases carried to trial all contributed to impunity within the defense and security forces. Human rights organizations maintained that insufficient resources, insecurity, and a lack of political will were the largest obstacles to fighting impunity.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, and inadequate medical care caused prison conditions to be harsh and life-threatening.
Physical Conditions: As of November Bamako Central Prison held approximately 2,920 prisoners in a facility designed to hold 400. There was also significant overcrowding at other prisons. Detainees were separated by age (adults or minors), gender, and offense type (terrorist or criminal). Detention conditions were better in Bamako’s women’s prison than in prisons for men.
By law authorities may hold arrested individuals for up to 72 hours in police stations, where there were no separate holding areas for women and children. Prison authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. As of November authorities held 200 individuals arrested on charges related to terrorism in the higher security division of Bamako Central Prison and in Koulikoro. The combination of the general security situation, population growth, and overloaded, inefficient courts worsened already poor prison conditions by increasing the number of pretrial detainees and preventing the release of prisoners who completed their sentences. Gendarmerie and police detention centers were at maximum capacity at year’s end.
As of November the prison administration reported that 17 prisoners and detainees, including three inmates detained on terrorism charges, died in custody due to heart attacks and stress. The CNDH, an independent entity that received administrative and budgetary assistance from the Ministry of Justice, attributed the deaths to unhealthy prison conditions. Authorities had a limited ability to control prisons, including prisoner-on-prisoner violence.
Prison food was insufficient in both quality and quantity, and prison medical facilities were inadequate. Lack of sanitation continued to pose the most significant threat to prisoners’ health. Buckets were used as toilets. Not all prisoners had access to potable water.
Administration: There were no prison ombudsmen. The CNDH is charged with visiting prisons and ensuring acceptable conditions. The law allows the CNDH to visit prisons without seeking prior permission from prison authorities, although its last visit to a military detention center occurred in 2012 despite several subsequent requests to visit. The government’s Penitentiary Administration also investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions.
Authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints, either directly through the CNDH or through the Office of the Ombudsman of the Republic, to judicial authorities to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions. Prisoners also made verbal complaints to the CNDH during prison inspections regarding their detention conditions.
Detainees were generally allowed to observe their religious practices and had reasonable access to visitors.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by human rights monitors and organizations. The government required 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, where a military detention center was located. Human rights observers with MINUSMA and the International Committee of the Red Cross regularly visited detention centers holding CMA and Platform members. International human rights and humanitarian organizations had access to most of these centers but not to detainees held in facilities operated by the DGSE.
Improvements: The government took steps to improve staff training and physical security measures. A nine-billion African Financial Community (CFA) franc ($16.4 million) prison construction project in Kenieroba, 30 miles south of Bamako, continued; the prison was partially operational. Although much of the structure was complete, the facility lacked adequate water, electricity, furnishings, and equipment. The prison was designed to hold 2,500 inmates and to meet international standards; as of September it held approximately 400 inmates.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law generally prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention. Nevertheless, government security forces arbitrarily arrested and unlawfully detained numerous individuals. Platform, CMA, and terrorist armed groups unlawfully detained individuals in connection with the continued conflict in the northern and central regions (see also section 1.g.).
The law allows detainees to challenge the legal basis or the arbitrary nature of their detention in court. Individuals are generally released promptly if their detention is determined to have been arbitrary, but the law does not provide for compensation from or recourse against the government.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The law requires judicial warrants for arrest. It also requires police to charge suspects or release them within 48 hours of arrest. Although police usually secured warrants based on sufficient evidence and through issuance by a duly authorized official, these procedures were not always followed. 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. Lack of resources to conduct transfers was often cited as a contributing factor. Detainees have a limited right to bail, but authorities often granted conditional release 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, if they cannot afford one, to a state-provided lawyer. Detainees are typically granted prompt access to their lawyers. Nevertheless, a shortage of private attorneys – particularly outside Bamako and Mopti – often prevented access to legal representation.
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. Due to the country’s size, long travel times, poor road conditions, and inadequate personnel, however, the transfer process itself sometimes took more than a week, during which security services did not inform detainees of the charges against them. Authorities did not provide released detainees with transport back to the location of their arrest, trips that often required several days of travel.
Arbitrary Arrest: Human rights organizations reported widespread allegations of arbitrary arrest and detention by transition government security forces, armed groups, and terrorist groups. Detentions often occurred in the wake of attacks by bandits or terrorists and were targeted against members of the ethnic group suspected of carrying out the attacks.
Between September and late October, the DGSE arrested and detained six individuals (Colonel-Major Kassoum Goita, former deputy director of the DGSE; Moustapha Diakite, police commissioner and chief of the Second District of Police in the Kayes Region; FAMa officer Abdoulaye Ballo; Kalilou Doumbia, former secretary general of the presidency during the tenure of former transition president Bah N’Daw; marabout (Quranic teacher) Issa Samake; and businessman Sandi Ahmed Saloum). All were accused of plotting against the transition government. On November 5, the prosecutor of the Commune VI Tribunal of High Instance charged them with “criminal conspiracy and attempted assault and conspiracy against the government.”
According to MINUSMA, because the CMA gradually replaced the national government as a de facto authority in the north of the country, the CMA had illegally detained and pardoned individuals being held at the Kidal remand center.
Pretrial Detention: There are three categories of chargeable offenses or crimes: contraventions, misdemeanors, and felonies. The law provides for trials to occur within prescribed periods of time which vary according to possible sentences for the offense charged.
For contraventions, akin to minor misdemeanors, with a sentencing exposure of one to 10 days or a fine, there is no pretrial detention since no investigation period is necessary. For serious misdemeanors where sentencing exposure for conviction is less than two years’ incarceration, detention is limited to six months, which may be renewed once for a total legal pretrial detention period of one year. For minor felonies with a sentencing exposure ranging from two to five years’ incarceration, or serious felonies with potential sentences ranging from five years to life in prison (or the death penalty), a defendant may be detained for a year, renewable twice, for a total legal pretrial detention period of three years.
Despite these legal restrictions, pretrial detention beyond legal limits remained a problem. Judicial inefficiency, the large number of detainees, corruption, and staff shortages contributed to excessive pretrial detention. Individuals sometimes remained in prison for several years before their cases came to trial. As of November approximately 92 percent of inmates were in pretrial detention.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary and the right to a fair trial, but the executive branch exerted 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. In the northern and central regions, due to insecurity, judges were sometimes absent from their assigned areas for months at a time. Village chiefs and justices of the peace appointed by the government decided most 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 tried to enforce this right. Inadequate staffing, lack of logistical support (such as translators), poor infrastructure (insufficient number of court buildings), undigitized records and case management systems, security concerns, and political pressure sometimes interfered with or hampered trial processes. Proceedings often were delayed, and some defendants waited years for their trials to begin, in many cases beyond legal pretrial detention limits. The law presumes that defendants are innocent until declared guilty by a judge. Defendants 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. Trials generally were public, except in cases involving minors and sensitive family matters, where courtrooms were closed to protect the interests of victims or other vulnerable parties.
Defendants have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice, or to have one provided at public expense for felony cases and cases 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 private attorneys, particularly in rural areas, often prevented prompt access. Defendants and their attorneys have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, to access government-held evidence, to confront witnesses, and to present their own witnesses and evidence. The government generally respected these rights. Defendants may not be compelled to testify against themselves or confess guilt. They may appeal decisions to the Appellate Court and the Supreme Court. The law extends these rights to all citizens.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were reports of political prisoners or detainees. Local human rights organizations considered the arrest and detention of Kassoum Goita and Kalilou Doumbia (see also section 1.d., Arbitrary Arrest) to be politically motivated. As of November there were an estimated two political prisoners in the country. Medical treatment for political prisoners was sometimes delayed or denied. Human rights and humanitarian organizations had inconsistent access to political prisoners relative to other detainees.
Following the May 24 consolidation of military power, authorities arrested then transition president Bah N’Daw and then prime minister Moctar Ouane and detained them on a military base. Although N’Daw and Ouane were released from detention on May 27, they were subsequently placed under house arrest. On July 1, the CNDH reported it was denied access to N’Daw and Ouane during their detention under house arrest. On August 27, the transition government released N’Daw and Ouane from house arrest.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights abuses. They may appeal their cases to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. In cases of hereditary 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 statutory law prohibit unlawful interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.
g. Conflict-related Abuses
The military and several armed groups committed serious human rights abuses in the northern and central parts of the country. These armed groups included former separatist forces such as the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad, High Council for the Unity of Azawad, and the Arab Movement of Azawad; northern militias aligned with the government, such as the Movement for the Salvation of Azawad and the Imghad Tuareg and Allies Self-Defense Group (GATIA); and terrorist and extremist organizations such as ISIS in the Greater Sahara, JNIM, Macina Liberation Front, and al-Mourabitoun. Most human rights abuses committed by the military appeared to target Fulani, Tuareg, and Arab individuals and were believed to be either retaliation for attacks attributed to armed groups associated with those ethnicities or the result of increased counterterrorism operations.
The government failed to pursue and investigate human rights abuses in the north, which was widely controlled by the CMA. Despite international assistance with investigating some human rights cases in the central region, no cases there were prosecuted.
Killings: The military, former rebel groups, northern militias whose interests aligned with the government, and terrorist organizations unlawfully killed persons throughout the country, especially in the central and, to a lesser extent, northern regions. Terrorist groups and unidentified individuals or groups carried out many attacks resulting in the deaths of members of the security force, members of signatory armed groups, UN peacekeepers, and civilians.
Ethnic Fulani in the central Mopti and Segou Regions reported abuses by government security forces. MINUSMA’s HRPD reported that on January 11, three civilians were killed by FAMa in Hombori, not far from a FAMa military base. The HRPD also reported that on January 15, five civilians from the Fulani ethnic group, including an employee of the international NGO Doctors Without Borders who was abducted in the Douentza area on January 10, were found dead near the town of Wami, not far from the Hombori FAMa military base. The HRPD further reported at least 20 civilians were killed and 18 wounded by the MDSF during military operations conducted between April and June.
According to the June report of the UN secretary-general, on March 18, the country’s armed forces unlawfully executed two individuals, injured four persons, and mistreated at least 30 others in Boni near Douentza, following the detonation of an IED in the area that injured soldiers. The UN secretary-general’s report stated as of June there were 303 conflict-related civilian deaths, including 145 from January to March and 158 from April to June, a decrease from the casualties registered during the same period in 2020. The report also stated that most conflict-related civilian deaths occurred in Mopti Region, Bandiagara, Douentza, and Segou Region.
On August 8, at least 42 civilians were killed in the villages of Ouatagouna, Karou, and Dirga in the Ansongo Circle, Gao Region, by unidentified armed individuals.
Abductions: Jihadist groups; armed groups associated with the CMA alliance; Platform-associated militias, such as GATIA; and ethnic self-defense militia groups reportedly held hostages. In the central region, the ethnic self-defense militia Dan Na Ambassagou (DNA) carried out dozens of abductions of civilians from Dogon villages that did not pay the money that DNA requested in lieu of the forced conscription of the villagers. On April 8, a French journalist, Olivier Dubois, was abducted in Gao. JNIM claimed responsibility for the abduction. Dubois remained in captivity as of November.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Human rights NGOs reported instances of conflict-related physical abuse, torture, and punishment perpetrated by the MDSF, armed groups, ethnic self-defense groups, and terrorist organizations.
Child Soldiers: The transition government’s National Directorate for the Protection of Children and Families reported that it had identified 30 cases of child soldiers during the year.
There were no known cases of FAMa using child soldiers during the year. On August 18, the militia group GATIA issued a statement expressing its commitment against use of children in armed conflict. On August 26, Platform, the armed group to which GATIA belongs, signed a UN action plan designed to prevent the recruitment and use of child soldiers.
According to two reports of the UN secretary-general to the UN Security Council covering the first nine months of the year, the United Nations documented 275 cases of recruitment and use of child soldiers by armed groups. According to those reports, 199 of the children were released to civilian child-protection organizations following UN intervention. The reports stated the government inappropriately detained some of these children, and that the government held some children comingled with adults in military detention centers. At the end of November, approximately 15 children remained in detention for association with armed groups. According to MINUSMA, four boys were detained between July and September for association with armed groups; however, they were released to child protection civilian partners after one to two days. Since January UNICEF assisted 256 children who were released from armed groups.
The HRPD reported exploitation of children in the gold mines controlled by the CMA in Kidal and that within the framework of a CMA operation to strengthen security in Kidal, children were used to manage checkpoints.
The government reported no investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of corrupt and complicit officials or traffickers for child-soldier offenses during the year.
Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.