Mali | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2003

2003 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Former general Amadou Toumani Toure won presidential elections in May 2002, defeating the former ruling party's candidate, Soumaila Cisse. Although many of the other 22 presidential candidates rejected the results after the first round of voting and claimed fraud, international observers said that despite some administrative irregularities the vote was generally free and fair. Toure, who ran as an independent, headed Mali during the transition period to multiparty politics in the early 1990s. He has a strong international profile because he has been active in regional peace and humanitarian efforts as a UN envoy. Shortly after assuming office, he granted civil servants a 30 percent salary increase as complaints mounted over price hikes for food, water, and electricity since March 2002. Legislative elections held in July were marked by low turnout.

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 Alliance for Democracy in Mali (ADEMA) party won the presidency in 1992 and 1997.

Despite steady economic growth, Mali remains desperately poor. About 65 percent of its land is desert or semidesert, and about 80 percent of the labor force is engaged in farming or fishing. Principal exports are cotton, livestock, and gold. Hundreds of thousands of Malians are economic migrants from across Africa and Europe. The Malian economy suffered a blow in 2002 when thousands of Malians returned from neighboring Cote d'Ivoire, where foreign migrants were being targeted during unrest that was sparked by a military rebellion. Mali's cotton profits declined because of increased transportation costs associated with exporting from ports other than those in Cote d'Ivoire.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

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 former president Alpha Oumar Konare was overwhelmingly reelected against a weak candidate who alone broke an opposition boycott of the presidential contest. Konare's ADEMA party suffered a split in 2001, adding more competition ahead of the 2002 presidential election. Twenty-four candidates participated. Amadou Toumani Toure, an independent candidate, and Soumaila Cisse, of ADEMA, went to a second round of voting. Toure won with 64 percent, compared with 36 percent for Cisse.

After the first round of voting, the Constitutional Court canceled more than 500,000 ballots cast. Several presidential candidates had petitioned the court to annul the results entirely, alleging fraud and vote rigging. The court cited voting by nonregistered voters and missing election reports as some of the irregularities of the first round. International observers said the polls were well managed and conducted in a spirit of transparency. However, they also noted several logistical and administrative irregularities.

The coalition Hope Party dominated voting for National Assembly elections in July 2002, gaining 66 seats; a coalition led by ADEMA won 51 seats; smaller parties won the remainder.

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 the government has in turn respected. Reforms are under way. 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.

Although libel is still considered a criminal offense and press laws include punitive presumption-of-guilt standards, Mali's media are among Africa's most open. At least 40 independent newspapers operate freely, and more than 100 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.

Mali is predominantly Muslim. However, it is a secular state and minority and religious rights are protected by law. Religious associations must register with the government, but the law is not enforced.

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 more populous nonpastoralist groups, which have been a main cause of political instability and violence, including the Tuareg rebellions of the early 1990s. A 1995 agreement ended the brutal, multi-sided conflicts between Tuareg guerrillas, black ethnic militias, and government troops.

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. Legislation gives women property rights, but traditional practices and ignorance prevent many from taking advantage of the laws. 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.

Workers are guaranteed the right to join unions. Nearly all salaried employees are unionized. The right to strike is guaranteed, with 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 2001 that made child trafficking punishable by up to 20 years in prison.