Armed groups and security forces committed crimes with impunity under international law. Police used excessive force against protesters and others.
Former government activists and officials were arbitrarily arrested and detained. Authorities did not take action to protect women and girls. People were discriminated against according to their perceived social status. The ongoing conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic seriously undermined the rights to health and education.
The legislative elections held between March and April caused a political crisis. In June, a coalition of opposition groups and religious leaders formed the June 5th Movement, challenging the election results and demanding the President’s resignation. In August, the National Committee for the Liberation of the People dismissed the President and his government in a coup.
A transitional government was formed in October. The security situation remained unstable in the context of the ongoing conflict, particularly in central areas where different armed groups operate, including the Islam and the Support Group for Muslims (GSIM), the Islamic State in the Sahara, and the self-defining “self-defense militias.”
Harassment by Armed Groups
Armed groups committed war crimes and other harassment, including dozens of attacks on civilians. According to the UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), a group of Dozo (traditional hunters) attacked the village of Sinda in January, killing 14 civilians.
In February, an armed group, Dan na Ambassagou, attacked the village of Ogossagou, killing at least 35 civilians and injuring three, while the fate of 19 people was not revealed. In July, gunmen allegedly linked to GSIM attacked several villages in the communes of Tori and Diallassagou, killing at least 32 civilians. Armed groups also targeted MINUSMA. As of September, two UN personnel were killed and 40 injured.
Between September and the end of the year, armed groups surrounded the village of Farabougou in the Ségou region, preventing the peasants from entering the farmland and moving freely.
At least three candidates were kidnapped while campaigning in the parliamentary elections. All were released. On March 25, opposition leader Soumaila Cissé and five members of the campaign team were abducted by GSIM members in the town of Niafounké in the Timbuktu region. Her bodyguard was killed during the kidnapping, and although the entire campaign team was released in the following days, Soumaila Cissé, along with a French and two Italian hostages, was not released until October 8.
Mali’s military committed war crimes and other human rights abuses against the civilian population during its operations. Between 3 February and 10 March, at least 23 civilians were killed by soldiers in Niono Cercle in Ségou district, and at least 27 civilians were subjected to enforced disappearance.
According to MINUSMA, 43 civilians were killed by the National Guard in June following a patrol with the Dozo group in the villages of Binédama and Yangassadiou. The army publicly acknowledged the murders and promised an investigation, but no further information was made public at year’s end.
Excessive Use of Force
The security forces used excessive force, including unlawful use of lethal force, to disperse protests. The Constitutional Court’s decision confirming the disputed 31 results during the elections sparked nationwide protests. In Sikasso on 7 May, security forces fired real ammunition to disperse the protests. Five demonstrators were injured and one died from their injuries.
On May 11, a 17-year-old motorcyclist was killed while being arrested by an off-duty police officer in Kayes. This incident sparked demonstrations in the city the following day, and two people, including a 12-year-old boy, were shot and killed by the police.
Between 10 and 12 July, security forces opened fire on demonstrators after occupying public buildings in the capital Bamako and setting up barricades to demand the President’s resignation; 14 protesters were killed by gunshot wounds and hundreds were injured. In August, the government announced it was launching an investigation into the deaths.
Arbitrary Arrests and Detentions
On 9 May, anti-corruption activist Clément Dembelé was kidnapped by eight headed intelligence service agents after he was driving in Banconi, a suburb of Bamako, after urging security forces to stop using violence against demonstrators in Sikasso. She was detained by the intelligence services for 12 days and released on 21 May and charged with “inciting security and defense forces to disobey their commanders”. He was acquitted of all charges on September 29.
Following the August coup, several cabinet members and officers, including then-President, Prime Minister and Speaker of the National Assembly, were illegally detained without charge. Deposed President Keita was detained for 10 days before being allowed to travel for medical reasons in late August. Others were released for free in October.
Right to health
In June, humanitarian organizations estimated that 23% of Mali’s health centers were either not operational or partially operational due to budget constraints and the COVID-19 outbreak and the impact of the conflict on public services. According to the UN, about 287,496 people were internally displaced and 42,780 were refugees. These groups’ right to health has been severely undermined.
Right to education
Children’s rights to education have been denied as armed groups operate in central Mali. This was coupled with a 12-month teachers’ strike protesting the government’s abandonment of a deal to increase their salaries. As of March, 1,261 schools were closed due to the constant threat of attacks by armed groups affecting 370,000 students and 7,500 teachers, according to UNICEF.
Discrimination based on caste and social status continued to spread and often led to violence. In June 2018, the village head of the Kayes district Diandioumé evacuated a family from their farmland due to their low social status. In September, after the judicial authorities approved the family’s right to land use, four people fighting this discrimination were beaten to death by a local gang, while three people, including an 80-year-old woman, were seriously injured. Authorities arrested 11 people suspected of being involved in the murders, and judicial proceedings continued at year’s end.
Violence Against Women and Girls
In June, the CEDAW Committee condemned the government’s failure to punish women’s rights, saying it allowed perpetrators to violate women’s rights with impunity. A bill drafted in 2017 banned the implementation, but has yet to be adopted.
Right to truth, justice and reparations
In January, the Assizes Court in Bamako temporarily released Amadou Haya Sanogo, the former leader of a military junta, and 17 of the other defendants. They were charged with complicity in the kidnapping, murder and murder of 21 soldiers in December 2013. They were in detention in Sélingué for more than six years – three years beyond the maximum allowed under Fiscal law. Their trial, which started in 2016, was suspended in January 2020 and was still ongoing at year’s end.
The trial of El Hasan ag Abdoul Aziz and Mohamed before the ICC started in July. He was accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Timbuktu while he was a member of the armed group Ansar Eddine that controlled the city during the occupation of Northern Mali between 2012 and 2013.
At least 18 members of the armed group were convicted of terrorism-related offenses by the Bamako Assizes Court, including three people sentenced to death for their role in the 2015 attack on the Radisson Blu Hotel (but one was later released in a prisoner exchange). In November, 15 people were found guilty of “terrorism, possession of war weapons and murder” and sentenced to death. However, most war crimes and other serious human rights violations committed against civilians in the context of the conflict went unpunished.