Freedom in the World
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Following widespread domestic criticism, President Alpha Oumar Konare withdrew provisions in a constitutional referendum, drafted by the national assembly, that would have given him limited immunity. The immunity would have covered civil suits but still made him liable for felonies. Opposition parties in parliament claimed the provisions had been altered after they helped draw them up. The ruling Alliance for Democracy in Mali (ADEMA) party suffered a split in 2001, adding more competition ahead of presidential and legislative elections scheduled for 2002. Mali continued to enjoy favorable attention from Western donors in 2001 because of the country's persistent efforts at democratic reform.
After achieving independence from France in 1960, Mali was ruled by military or one-party dictators for more than 30 years. After soldiers killed more than 100 demonstrators demanding a multiparty system in 1991, President Moussa Traore was overthrown by his own military. Traore, and his wife, Mariam, were sentenced to death in January 1999 for embezzlement. Traore had received the death sentence in 1993 as well for ordering troops to fire on demonstrators in 1991. Sentences for both Traore and his wife have been commuted to life imprisonment. After the 1991 coup, a national conference organized open elections that most observers judged free and fair. Konare and his ADEMA party won the presidency in 1992 and 1997.
Mali has taken on a leading regional role in fighting small arms trafficking and child labor. Despite steady economic growth, the country remains desperately poor, with about 65 percent of its land area desert or semidesert. About 80 percent of the labor force is engaged in farming and fishing. Principal exports are cotton, livestock, and gold. Hundreds of thousands of Malians are economic migrants across Africa and Europe.
Mali's people first chose their government freely and fairly in presidential and legislative elections in 1992. In 1997, little more than a quarter of registered voters participated as President Alpha Oumar Konare was overwhelmingly reelected against a weak candidate who alone broke an opposition boycott of the presidential contest. The first round of legislative elections in 1997 was voided by the constitutional court, although international observers saw incompetence rather than fraud as the principal problem. Konare's Alliance for Democracy in Mali (ADEMA) holds 130 of 147 national assembly seats, and allied parties hold 12. The opposition occupies 5.
ADEMA won 62 percent of the localities in local elections in 1999, while moderate opposition groups won most of the remainder. Radical opposition parties boycotted the polls as they had in earlier presidential and parliamentary elections. One group, however, broke ranks and won 10 localities. The central government in the capital, Bamako, stopped administering land use, schools, health centers, transport systems, and other services after the 1999 local elections. Those polls gave local government administrations more power.
Since the end of military rule, Mali's domestic political debate has been open and extensive. There are at least 75 political parties. The government holds an annual Democracy and Human Rights Forum in which citizens can air complaints in the presence of the media and international observers.
The judiciary is not independent of the executive, but has shown considerable autonomy in rendering anti-administration decisions, which President Konare has in turn respected. Reforms are underway. Local chiefs, in consultation with elders, decide the majority of disputes in rural areas. Detainees are not always charged within the 48-hour period set by law. There are often lengthy delays in bringing people to trial.
Mali's human rights record is generally good, although there are reports of police brutality. Prisons are characterized by overcrowding, inadequate medical care, and limited food. The government permits visits by human rights monitors. Independent human rights groups operate openly and freely.
Mali's media are among Africa's most open. At least 100 independent newspapers operate freely, and more than 120 independent radio stations, including community stations broadcasting in regional languages, broadcast throughout the country. The government controls one television station and many radio stations, but all present diverse views, including those critical of the government. Legislation in 2000 provided for reduced penalties for libel, replacing jail terms with fines.
Mali is a predominantly Muslim, but secular state, and minority and religious rights are protected by law. Religious associations must register with the government, but the law is not enforced. Following terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon in September 2001, Mali expelled about 36 Pakistanis from the Ahmadiyya Muslim group, as did other countries in West Africa.
No ethnic group predominates in the government or the security forces and political parties are not based on ethnicity. There have been long-standing tensions between the marginalized Moor and Tuareg pastoralist groups and the more populous nonpastoralist groups. This has been a main cause of political instability and violence, including the Tuareg rebellions of the early 1990s. A 1995 agreement ended the brutal, multisided conflicts between Tuareg guerrillas, black ethnic militias, and government troops. Former guerrilla fighters have been integrated into the national army.
Most formal legal advances in protection of women's rights have not been implemented, especially in rural areas. Societal discrimination against women persists, and social and cultural factors continue to limit their economic and educational opportunities. Women, however, hold some key portfolios in the cabinet. Violence against women, including spousal abuse, is tolerated and common. Female genital mutilation remains legal, although the government has conducted educational campaigns against the practice. Numerous groups promote the rights of women and children. Mali passed a law in 2001 banning the bartering of women.
Workers are guaranteed the right to join unions. Nearly all salaried employees are unionized. The right to strike is guaranteed, although there are some restrictions. Although the constitution prohibits forced labor, thousands of Malian children have been sold into servitude on coffee and cocoa plantations in neighboring Cote d'Ivoire by organized traffickers. Mali now requires children under 18 to carry travel documents and enacted a law in June 2001 that made child trafficking punishable by up to 20 years in prison.