Mali experienced a political transition away from authoritarian rule beginning in the early 1990s, and gradually built up its democratic institutions for about 20 years. However, the country displayed characteristics of state fragility along the way that eventually contributed to a 2012 military coup, and a rebellion in northern Mali that erupted the same year. Though constitutional rule was restored and a peace agreement signed in the north in 2015, the events have left an enduring situation of insecurity.
Key Developments in 2018:
- President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta won a second five-year term in the year’s presidential election, and was sworn in in September. While insecurity in the central and northern regions led to the closure of some polling stations and disruptions at many others, voting took place peacefully in the south, where most of Mali’s population is located. Insecurity notwithstanding, international observers characterized polling as generally well conducted.
- The opposition rejected the election as fraudulent, and filed a complaint with the Constitutional Court, which rejected it and certified Keïta’s victory.
- Scores of people were killed and more were displaced in intercommunal violence in central Mali, particularly in Mopti Region. The violence has included attacks on schools and houses of worship.
- In June, mass graves containing the bodies of 25 militants were discovered in Mopti Region. The Defense Ministry issued a statement saying the Malian armed forces were implicated in “gross violations,” and instructed military prosecutors to investigate the killings.
POLITICAL RIGHTS: 18 / 40 (+1)
A. ELECTORAL PROCESS: 6 / 12
A1. Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 2 / 4
The president, who appoints the prime minister, is elected by popular vote and may serve up to two five-year terms. In a two-round presidential election in 2018, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, the incumbent president known by his initials, IBK, took 67 percent of the vote; he defeated
Soumaïla Cissé, a former finance minister, who took 33 percent. International election observers said polling was relatively well conducted. However, a fragile security situation led to very low turnout in parts of northern and central Mali. Approximately 20 percent of polling stations were affected by violent disruptions nationwide, according to authorities, and 3 percent were closed entirely. Additionally, internet access was blocked ahead of the run-off vote, and authorities refused to answer journalists’ questions about the disruption.
The political opposition, led by Cissé, rejected the election’s results as fraudulent, and filed a complaint with the Constitutional Court, which rejected it and certified Keïta’s victory. The opposition then boycotted President Keïta’s inauguration in September, though Keïta has received international recognition as the election’s winner. Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga was reappointed as prime minister and unveiled his government in September, which was largely unchanged from the previous one.
Despite the election’s relative success, the political system remains fragile due to the security situation, and as the country continues to address the aftermath of the 2012 coup.
A2. Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 2 / 4
Members of the 147-seat unicameral National Assembly serve five-year terms. Thirteen seats are reserved to represent Malians living abroad. IBK’s Rally for Mali (RPM) party won 66 seats in legislative elections held in 2013, and its allies took an additional 49 seats. Cissé’s Union for the Republic and Democracy (URD) won 17 seats, and the third-largest party, the Alliance for Democracy (ADEMA), won 16.
In October 2018, the Constitutional Court delayed the year’s legislative elections, which had been set to take place over two rounds in October and November, agreeing with a petition arguing that some candidates had not been able to register due to a strike by judges. The court ruled that the elections would instead take place in June 2019, and extended lawmakers’ mandates accordingly.
A3. Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 2 / 4
Electoral operations are divided among three administrative bodies in Mali—the Ministry of Territorial Administration, the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), and the General Office of Elections (DGE). The Constitutional Court also participates in the electoral process by validating election results and resolving disputes.
Electoral bodies have struggled to establish secure polling places in areas where armed groups operate. Voters have been disenfranchised due to delays in the distribution of electoral identity cards, and an outdated voter registry.
B. POLITICAL PLURALISM AND PARTICIPATION: 8 / 16 (+1)
B1. Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 2 / 4
The creation and the functioning of political parties are determined by a legal framework known as the Political Parties Charter, which is generally considered fair. The Charter prohibits the creation of political parties on an “ethnic, religious, linguistic, regionalist, sexist, or professional basis.”
There are more than 100 registered political parties in Mali, though fewer than 20 are active. Parties are relatively weak, and are usually based around support for a particular personality, and policy differences between parties are not always clear. Parties are often poorly funded, which hampers their ability to effectively organize and win voter support.
B2. Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 2 / 4
Electoral competition is open to opposition forces. A 2014 law institutionalized specific privileges for opposition parties in the parliament, such as the ability to choose an official leader of the opposition. However, in 2016 the ruling majority passed, over the objections of opposition parties, amendments to the electoral code that favored establishment and majority parties by requiring candidates to make a significant financial campaign deposit, and to receive support from national councilors. Even so, more than 20 candidates were able to run in the 2018 presidential election.
B3. Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group that is not democratically accountable? 2 / 4 (+1)
Political choices remain the privilege of the Malian people, though these choices are occasionally influenced by the promise of patronage appointments or other benefits in exchange for political support.
Insecurity has restricted people’s ability to vote in northern and central Mali, including during the 2018 presidential election. Approximately 20 percent of polling stations saw violent disruptions nationwide, and about 3 percent were closed due to security risks, according to authorities. A polling officer was shot and killed in Arkodia during the presidential runoff by armed men authorities described as “jihadists.” Additionally, many of the roughly 500,000 people displaced within and outside Mali were unable to exercise their voting rights in 2018.
Nevertheless, it appeared that more polling stations in regions affected by ongoing insecurity remained opened during the 2018 presidential election, compared to the 2016 local polls. Polling generally took place peacefully in the south, where the vast majority of the population is concentrated. The rate of deadly violence against those involved in election administration was lower in 2018 than in 2016, when five military members transporting ballots were reportedly killed in an ambush near Douentza.
Score Change: The score improved from 1 to 2 because insecurity in the northern and central regions did not disrupt polling in 2018 as severely as in 2016.
B4. Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 2 / 4
No law limits the political rights of minorities, and no single ethnic group dominates the government or security forces. Tuareg pastoralist groups in the north have historically occupied a marginal position in national political life, but members from these groups hold at least 16 National Assembly seats.
Societal attitudes can discourage women from participating in political processes. Only about 14 percent of candidates in the 2013 legislative elections were women, and women occupy less than 10 percent of National Assembly seats. In the country’s 2018 presidential election, Djeneba N'Diaye was the sole female candidate.
C. FUNCTIONING OF GOVERNMENT: 4 / 12
C1. Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 2 / 4
The president was elected in 2018 polls that were generally credible but marred by violence in some areas. National Assembly members were freely elected in the 2013 polls, though at the end of 2018 remained seated beyond their constitutional mandate, with new polls scheduled for 2019. The prime minister is generally able to set national policy, and the parliament to enact new laws. However, the executive branch has exhibited influence on the other branches of government.
The volatile security situation in northern and central Mali limits government activity there.
C2. Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 1 / 4
Corruption remains a problem in government, notably in public procurement. Bribery and embezzlement of public funds is common and impunity for corrupt officials is the norm. The Office of the Auditor General is an independent office responsible for analyzing public spending, but despite identifying sizable embezzlement cases, very few prosecutions have been made.
C3. Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 1 / 4
Government operations remain generally opaque. Mali does not have a comprehensive freedom of information regime, although numerous laws do provide for public access to some official documents and information. However, such laws are replete with extensive and vague exceptions, and journalists have faced obstacles when attempting to obtain information, particularly about the military.
CIVIL LIBERTIES: 26 / 60 (–1)
D. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND BELIEF: 10 / 16 (–1)
D1. Are there free and independent media? 2 / 4
The media environment in Mali’s capital, Bamako, and in the rest of the south is relatively open, though there are sporadic reports of censorship, self-censorship, and threats against journalists. Reporting on the situation in the north remains dangerous due to the presence of active militant groups. Defamation is a crime that can draw fines or prison time.
Elections in Mali are often accompanied by an uptick in press freedom violations. In June 2018, as campaigning was ramping up, a number of journalists were chased off by police as they attempted to cover a banned opposition demonstration. The following month, three journalists with France’s TV Monde were arrested and interrogated upon their arrival at the Bamako airport, though were released without charge. In August, Bamako authorities unilaterally closed Radio Renouveau FM, citing allegations of inciting hatred, after the host of one of its programs alleged that Keïta and his allies had committed electoral fraud and had engaged in vote-buying. In closing the station, authorities bypassed the High Authority for Communication (HAC), Mali’s media regulator, which is the only authority with power to issue legal rulings on media content.
D2. Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 2 / 4 (−1)
Freedom of religion is constitutionally guaranteed in Mali, which is a secular state, and discrimination of the basis of religion is prohibited. The population is predominantly Sunni Muslim, and Sufism plays a role in the beliefs of most residents.
Armed extremist groups have terrorized northern and central Mali, and have attacked those who they perceive as failing to follow their strict interpretation of Islam. They have occasionally carried out targeted kidnappings of Christians and subjected them to sometimes violent harassment.
In 2018, serious violations of religious freedom accompanied increasing intercommunal violence in central Mali. Islamist armed groups have reportedly compelled civilians to attend lectures at mosques, at which they promote their interpretations of Islam and discourage residents from having contact with the government and UN and French peacekeeping forces. There were a number of reports of armed attacks on mosques, as well as detentions and murders committed within.
Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 because intercommunal violence in central Mali has brought about violations of religious freedom, including attacks on houses of worship.
D3. Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 3 / 4
Academic freedom is upheld in areas with a consolidated government presence, but restricted in areas with a heavy militant presence.
D4. Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 3 / 4
Private discussion is generally open and free in areas under government control, but is more restricted in areas with a militant presence or where intercommunal violence has flared. The government temporarily restricted social media use in 2017, in an apparent attempt to prevent activists from organizing protests against constitutional revisions. In 2018, internet access was again blocked ahead of the presidential run-off vote.
E. ASSOCIATIONAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL RIGHTS: 6 / 12
E1. Is there freedom of assembly? 2 / 4
The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, but participants in public gatherings risk violence by state security forces. In December 2017, one person was killed and 15 were injured after the police opened fire on demonstrators in Konsiga who had blocked the city hall for a week in an attempt to force the mayor’s resignation. In June 2018, 16 people were injured when police broke up a peaceful demonstration in Bamako organized by the opposition, which had been prohibited by the government.
E2. Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 2 / 4
Many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operate in Mali without state interference. However, large, established NGOs with ties to the political elite are influential, and can overshadow smaller and more innovative groups, particularly in the competition for funding. Ongoing insecurity in some parts of the country hampers NGO efforts to provide aid and services to returning refugees and others affected by instability.
E3. Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 2 / 4
The constitution guarantees workers the right to form unions and to strike, with some limitations for essential services workers, and requirements involving compulsory arbitration. The government has broad discretionary power over the registration of unions and recognition of collective bargaining, and the authorities do not effectively enforce laws against antiunion discrimination.
F. RULE OF LAW: 6 / 16
F1. Is there an independent judiciary? 2 / 4
The judiciary is beholden to the executive, despite constitutional guarantees of judicial independence. Judges are appointed by the president, while the minister of justice supervises both law enforcement and judicial functions. Additionally, the overall efficiency of the judicial system remains low. Militant attacks against judicial personnel have prompted some judges to vacate their posts. In November 2017, Malian judge Soungalo Koné was kidnapped in central Mali by armed men who asked for the release of detained militants in exchange for his freedom. He had not been released by the end of 2018.
F2. Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 2 / 4
Due process rights are inconsistently upheld, and a 2017 AfroBarometer survey reported that the police and justice system are perceived to be the least trustworthy institutions in the country. Detainees are not always charged within the 48-hour period set by law, and arbitrary arrests are common. Since a deadly 2015 hotel attack in Bamako, a national state of emergency has remained in force, and was extended in October 2018 for another year. The emergency designation gives security services greater authority to search homes without a warrant, detain suspects, and restrict protests.
The trial of Amadou Sanogo, the former army captain who staged a military coup in Mali in 2012, and more than a dozen codefendants began in late 2016 on charges related to the abduction and killing of 21 soldiers. The trial was quickly adjourned, and at the end of 2018 Sanogo remained in detention while awaiting the trial’s reopening. Separately, in April, Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud, a former member of the militant Islamist group Ansar Dine, made his first appearance before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. He is set to be tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Timbuktu between 2012 and 2013.
The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission created in 2014 is responsible for investigating human rights violations committed since 1960, but its activities are restricted by the rise of terrorist activities and intercommunal tensions within Mali’s borders.
F3. Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 1 / 4
Islamist militant groups not party to Mali’s 2015 peace agreement continued to carry out acts of violence against civilians in the northern and central regions. Ongoing instability has contributed to the spread of organized crime, and accompanying violence and kidnappings. Scores were killed and many more were displaced in 2018 in incidents of intercommunal violence. The Fulani ethnic group are facing growing pressure over allegations of ties to al-Qaeda extremists. In one dire attack in June, more than 30 members of the Fulani community were killed in the Mopti town of Koumaga.
Malian armed forces have committed human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and torture. In April 2018, several Fulani civic associations accused the army of killing 14 Fulani civilians. Mali’s army maintained that those killed were suspected militants. In June, mass graves containing the bodies of 25 militants were discovered in Mopti Region. The Defense Ministry issued a statement saying the Malian armed forces were implicated in “gross violations,” and instructed military prosecutors to investigate. This was considered by some to be an encouraging sign that authorities were moving to address grave human rights abuses by the security forces.
Separately, in January, three dozen Malian soldiers from an elite unit were arrested for refusing to deploy in a conflict zone. The desertions were attributed to lack of necessary equipment and training.
Prisons are characterized by overcrowding, insufficient medical care, and a lack of proper food and sanitation. The government made some effort in 2017 to improve conditions by holding staff trainings and building a new prison with a capacity of about 2,500 prisoners.
F4. Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 1 / 4
Members of a northern caste known as black Tamasheqs face societal discrimination, including slavery-like treatment and hereditary servitude. Authorities sometimes deny them official documents or discriminate against them in housing, schooling, and police protection.
Same-sex sexual acts are legal, but LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people face discrimination, including cases of violence from family members meant as a corrective punishment.
Although equal rights are provided for in the constitution, the law does not provide for the same legal status for women and men, and women are required by law to obey their husbands. Sexual harassment is not prohibited by law and is a common practice in schools and the workplace.
Conditions in northern Mali have left many refugees unable or unwilling to return, as continuing insecurity in the region complicates resettlement. According to the UNHCR, there were more than 137,000 Malian refugees in Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Niger as of November 2018.
G. PERSONAL AUTONOMY AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS: 4 / 16
G1. Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 1 / 4
Freedom of movement and choice of residence remain affected by insecurity, especially in northern and central Mali. According to the United Nations, 827 schools were closed as of December 2018, including 62 percent of schools in the Mopti Region. Schools have been targeted in militant attacks.
G2. Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 1 / 4
Citizens have the right to own property and conduct business activity, but these rights are not consistently respected and widespread corruption hampers normal business activities. It is generally necessary to pay bribes in order operate a business.
Traditional customs sometimes undermine the right of women to own property. The law discriminates against women in matters of marriage, divorce, and inheritance.
G3. Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 1 / 4
Rape and domestic violence against women are widespread, and most such crimes go unreported. There are no specific laws prohibiting spousal rape or domestic violence. Female genital mutilation or cutting is legal and commonly practiced in the country. LBGT couples cannot adopt children in Mali.
G4. Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 1 / 4
Although trafficking in persons is a criminal offense, prosecutions are infrequent. Many judicial officials remain unaware of the antitrafficking law, and the police lack adequate resources to combat trafficking. Traditional forms of slavery and debt bondage persist, particularly in the north, with thousands of people estimated to be living in such conditions.
Although the government has taken steps to eliminate child labor, it is a significant concern, especially in the agricultural and artisanal gold-mining sectors. Armed groups also regularly recruited and use child soldiers.