Mali | Freedom House

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Freedom in the World 2006

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Rioting in Bamako after a soccer match in March 2005 shook public confidence in President Amadou Toumani Toure's government. Alone in a crowded field, one opposition party-Alliance of Alternatives for African Renewal (BARA)-has declared its intent to counter the quiescence of Mali's political parties, nearly all of which have, since Toure's election in 2002, offered unqualified support for his government. Mali's economy faltered in 2005, with projected gross domestic product (GDP) expected to be significantly lower than in 2004. The country's largest union held a one-day strike in September to press the government for a minimum wage increase.

Following 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 also received the death sentence in 1993 for ordering troops to fire on demonstrators in 1991. The sentences for the couple were commuted to life imprisonment.

After the 1991 coup, a national conference organized open elections that most observers judged to be credible, with Alpha Oumar Konare of the Alliance for Democracy in Mali (ADEMA) winning the presidency in 1992. In 1997, a little more than a quarter of registered voters participated in Konare's reelection against a weak candidate who alone had broken an opposition boycott of the presidential contest.

Konare pledged his support for constitutionally mandated term limits and declared his intent to leave office at the end of his second term, despite his supporters' efforts to build backing for a potential third term. In the May 2002 presidential election, Amadou Toumani Toure, the popular former general who had led Mali during the transition period to multiparty politics in the early 1990s, ran with the backing of numerous civic organizations and smaller political parties as an independent against 23 other candidates. Toure and ADEMA candidate Soumaila Cisse went to a second round of voting, with Toure securing 64 percent of the vote compared with 36 percent for Cisse. Despite irregularities that resulted in the voiding of more than 500,000 ballots after the first round and the petitions of several presidential candidates to annul the final results, international observers reported that the polls were well managed and conducted in a spirit of transparency.

The coalition "Espoir 2002" gained 66 seats in the July 2002 National Assembly elections, while an ADEMA-led coalition won 51 seats. Smaller parties captured the remainder of the seats. Communal elections in May 2004 were orderly and transparent, with ADEMA winning nearly 30 percent of seats in the more than 700 communes.

Public confidence in the government, normally strong, was shaken by rioting across Bamako that broke out in March 2005 following Mali's loss in an African Cup of Nations soccer match. Numerous injuries, hundreds of arrests, and widespread damage to commercial interests shocked residents, many of whom viewed the riot as a sign of growing frustration over the lack of progress on poverty-reduction initiatives and political reform.

Despite significant political and economic reforms undertaken since the early 1990s, Mali is the fourth poorest country in the world, according to the 2005 UN Development Program's Human Development Report. Approximately 65 percent of the country is desert or semi-desert, and approximately 80 percent of the labor force is engaged in farming or fishing. Hundreds of thousands of Malians are economic migrants across Africa and Europe, and many have been disadvantaged by the ongoing conflict in Cote d'Ivoire. The combined impact of low rainfall, devastating locust invasions, lower cotton prices, falling gold production, and the increased costs of imported staples forced the government to revise its GDP forecast down from 4.7 percent in 2004 to 2.2 percent for 2005.

Toure earned international praise for his efforts to promote regional peace and development as a UN envoy before standing for office in 2002, while Konare's service since 2003 as chairman of the African Union is a source of national pride. Since 2004, Mali has worked closely with the United States on programs intended to stem the growth of terrorist organizations across the vast desert region. Ties to South Africa were strengthened during the year with the signing of an agreement for South Africa to provide military training and support for Mali's peacekeeping efforts. South African companies control 90 percent of Mali's gold production, which amounts to 50 percent of exports.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Citizens of Mali can change their government democratically. Despite irregularities noted by international observers, the most recent 2002 presidential elections were regarded as credible, as were legislative elections. The president is elected by popular vote and limited to two 5-year terms. Members of the 147-member, unicameral National Assembly also serve 5-year terms, with 13 seats reserved for Malians living abroad. The next general election is scheduled for 2007.

A figure of both national and international stature, President Amadou Toumani Toure has continued to portray himself as politically independent. This strategy has weakened Mali's nascent multiparty system, as many parties are reticent to criticize Toure's administration or offer opposing points of view. In March 2005, an opposition party, the Alliance of Alternatives for African Renewal (BARA), declared its intent to counter what it described as the prevailing climate of "political unanimity."

The government has established a special commission to help eradicate corruption. Mali was ranked 88 out of 159 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index.

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and these rights are generally respected in practice. Although libel is considered a criminal offense and press laws include punitive presumption-of-guilt standards, these laws are rarely invoked. The case of three reporters arrested in October 2003 on charges of defaming an attorney is still pending, though the journalists were freed while awaiting trial. Approximately 15 different newspapers are regularly published in Bamako, some appearing daily or weekly. The government controls the only television station and one of more than 125 radio stations. However, all broadcasting media present a wide range of views, including those critical of the government. In addition to commercial radio stations, private or community radio outlets provide a critical link for rural and isolated populations. The government does not restrict academic freedom or access to the internet.

Mali's population is predominantly Muslim, though the state is secular, and minority and religious rights are protected by law. Religious associations must register with the government, though this requirement is not burdensome or intrusive. Sectarian violence occasionally flares between Muslim groups.

Freedom of assembly and association is guaranteed and respected. Many civic groups and nongovernmental organizations, including human rights groups, operate without interference. Workers are guaranteed the right to join unions, and nearly all salaried employees are unionized. The National Union of Malian Workers, the country's largest union, held a 24-hour strike in September after negotiations with the government failed to reach an agreement on union demands for an increase in the minimum wage.

Although the judiciary is not independent of the executive, it has shown considerable autonomy in rendering antiadministration decisions that have been respected by the government. Local chiefs decide the majority of disputes in rural areas. Detainees are not always charged within the 48-hour period set by law, and there are lengthy delays in bringing persons to trial. In 2004, local lawyers estimated that approximately half of prison inmates were pretrial detainees.

Mali's human rights record is generally good, although there are reports of police brutality. The government permits visits by human rights monitors to prisons, though at least one group has complained that cumbersome administrative procedures make investigating and reporting on possible human rights abuses difficult. Prison conditions are harsh.

No ethnic group predominates in the government or the security forces, and political parties are not based on ethnicity. Long-standing tensions between the marginalized Moor and Tuareg pastoralist groups on the one hand and the more populous nonpastoralist groups on the other were a main cause of political instability and violence in the past, including during the Tuareg rebellions of the early 1990s. Tensions have largely subsided, in part due to government efforts to integrate minority groups into the government and security forces.

Although the constitution prohibits forced labor, Mali is a source, transit, and destination country for women and children trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced domestic, agricultural, and commercial labor. Mali now requires children under 18 to carry travel documents. A law that made child trafficking punishable by up to 20 years in prison was enacted in 2001, though there have been no prosecutions under this law. In 2005, the government signed a multilateral agreement with other countries in the region to combat child trafficking.

Domestic violence against women, including spousal abuse, is tolerated and common. Women have limited access to legal services, and family law favors men, leaving women at a disadvantage in cases involving divorce, child custody, and inheritance rights. Despite legislation giving women equal property rights, traditional practice and ignorance of the law prevent women from benefiting from this reform. Female genital mutilation is common though banned by government decree in govern-ment-financed health centers. The practice has been carried out on an estimated 95 percent of adult women but is reportedly declining in urban areas. The government is pursuing measures, such as a countrywide educational campaign, to eliminate the practice by 2008. Abortion is prohibited except in cases of rape or incest. A number of women's rights groups are active in highlighting and advocating solutions for the legal and socioeconomic problems facing women in Malian society.