International Criminology World

World : Africa : Mali

Malians express great pride in their ancestry. Mali is the cultural heir to the succession of Ancient African empires--Ghana, Malinké, and Songhai--that occupied the West African savannah. These empires controlled Saharan trade and were in touch with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern centers of civilization.

The Ghana Empire, dominated by the Soninke people and centered in the area along the Malian-Mauritanian frontier, was a powerful trading state from about A.D. 700 to 1075. The Malinke Kingdom of Mali had its origins on the upper Niger River in the 11th century. Expanding rapidly in the 13th century under the leadership of Soundiata Keita, it reached its height about 1325, when it conquered Timbuktu and Gao. Thereafter, the kingdom began to decline, and by the 15th century, it controlled only a small fraction of its former domain.

The Songhai Empire expanded its power from its center in Gao during the period 1465-1530. At its peak under Askia Mohammad I, it encompassed the Hausa states as far as Kano (in present-day Nigeria) and much of the territory that had belonged to the Mali Empire in the west. It was destroyed by a Moroccan invasion in 1591.

French military penetration of the Soudan (the French name for the area) began around 1880. Ten years later, the French made a concerted effort to occupy the interior. The timing and resident military governors determined methods of their advances. A French civilian governor of Soudan was appointed in 1893, but resistance to French control did not end until 1898, when the Malinké warrior Samory Touré was defeated after 7 years of war. The French attempted to rule indirectly, but in many areas they disregarded traditional authorities and governed through appointed chiefs. As the colony of French Soudan, Mali was administered with other French colonial territories as the Federation of French West Africa.

In 1956, with the passing of France's Fundamental Law (Loi Cadre), the Territorial Assembly obtained extensive powers over internal affairs and was permitted to form a cabinet with executive authority over matters within the Assembly's competence. After the 1958 French constitutional referendum, the "Republique Soudanaise" became a member of the French Community and enjoyed complete internal autonomy.

In January 1959, Soudan joined Senegal to form the Mali Federation, which became fully independent within the French Community on June 20, 1960. The federation collapsed on August 20, 1960, when Senegal seceded. On September 22, Soudan proclaimed itself the Republic of Mali and withdrew from the French Community.

President Modibo Keita, whose party Union Soudanaise du Rassemblement Democratique Africain--US/RDA had dominated preindependence politics, moved quickly to declare a single-party state and to pursue a socialist policy based on extensive nationalization. A continuously deteriorating economy led to a decision to rejoin the Franc Zone in 1967 and modify some of the economic excesses.

On November 19, 1968, a group of young officers staged a bloodless coup and set up a 14-member Military Committee for National Liberation (CMLN), with Lt. Moussa Traore as president. The military leaders attempted to pursue economic reforms but for several years faced debilitating internal political struggles and the disastrous Sahelian drought.

A new constitution, approved in 1974, created a one-party state and was designed to move Mali toward civilian rule. However, the military leaders remained in power. In September 1976, a new political party was established, the Democratic Union of the Malian People (UDPM), based on the concept of democratic centralism. Single-party presidential and legislative elections were held in June 1979, and Gen. Moussa Traore received 99% of the votes. His efforts at consolidating the single-party government were challenged in 1980 by student-led, anti-government demonstrations, which were brutally put down, and by three coup attempts.

The political situation stabilized during 1981 and 1982 and remained generally calm throughout the 1980s. The UDPM spread its structure to Cercles and Arrondissements across the land. Shifting its attention to Mali's economic difficulties, the government approved plans for cereal marketing liberalization, reform in the state enterprise system, new incentives to private enterprise, and worked out a new structural adjustment agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

However, by 1990, there was growing dissatisfaction with the demands for austerity imposed by the IMF's economic reform programs and the perception that the president and his close associates were not themselves adhering to those demands.

As in other African countries, demands for multi-party democracy increased. The Traore government allowed some opening of the system, including the establishment of an independent press and independent political associations, but insisted that Mali was not ready for democracy. In early 1991, student-led, anti-government rioting broke out again, but this time government workers and others supported it. On March 26, 1991, after 4 days of intense anti-government rioting, a group of 17 military officers arrested President Traore and suspended the constitution. Within days, these officers joined with the Coordinating Committee of Democratic Associations to form a predominantly civilian, 25-member ruling body, the Transitional Committee for the Salvation of the People (CTSP). The CTSP then appointed a civilian-led government. A national conference held in August 1991 produced a draft constitution (approved in a referendum January 12, 1992), a charter for political parties, and an electoral code. Political parties were allowed to form freely. Between January and April 1992, a president, National Assembly, and municipal councils were elected. On June 8, 1992, Alpha Oumar Konare, the candidate of the Association for Democracy in Mali (ADEMA), was inaugurated as the president of Mali's Third Republic.

In 1997, attempts to renew national institutions through democratic elections ran into administrative difficulties, resulting in a court-ordered annulment of the legislative elections held in April 1997. The exercise, nonetheless, demonstrated the overwhelming strength of President Konare's ADEMA party, causing some other historic parties to boycott subsequent elections. President Konare won the presidential election against scant opposition on May 11. In the two-round legislative elections conducted on July 21 and August 3, ADEMA secured more than 80% of the National Assembly seats.

Today, Mali is a constitutional democracy that continued to implement a decentralized form of government. President Alpha Oumar Konare was reelected to a second 5-year term in 1997. A collective of 12 opposition parties boycotted the 1997 presidential and legislative elections, which were flawed administratively but considered generally free and without evident fraud. The opposition parties claimed that the elections were unconstitutional because the Government failed to carry out annual updates of electoral lists; however, some opposition candidates chose to participate by running as independents. The ruling Alliance for Democracy in Mali (ADEMA), led by President Konare, dominates the National Assembly, which includes representatives of opposition parties. General elections are scheduled to take place in 2002. President Konare will not seek reelection since he is serving his second and last term as required by the constitution. All political parties have pledged to participate in the upcoming elections. The government is in the process of completing a new voter's list after a general census was administered a few months ago with the support of all political parties. The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, in practice the Government continued to exert influence on the judiciary.



Mali is a very poor country with a market-based economy, and its population is approximately 11 million. Most of the work force is employed in the agricultural sector, particularly farming and animal husbandry. The country's principal exports are cotton, livestock, and gold. There is a very small industrial sector, largely based on the manufacture of textiles, beverages, and processed food products. The gross national product was approximately $250 (181,250 CFA francs) per capita, which provides most of the population with a low standard of living. The economy depends heavily upon foreign assistance. Desertification, deforestation, soil degradation, and social limitations, including a current estimated literacy rate of approximately 30 percent (48 percent for men and 12 percent for women) and a high population growth rate (2.8 percent), contributed to poverty. Poor infrastructure, minimal foreign investment, administrative inefficiency, and corruption also were important factors in limiting economic growth.


The crime rate in Mali is very low compared to industrialized countries. An analysis was done using INTERPOL data for Mali. For purpose of comparison, data were drawn for the seven offenses used to compute the United States FBI's index of crime. Index offenses include murder, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft. The combined total of these offenses constitutes the Index used for trend calculation purposes. Mali will be compared with Japan (country with a low crime rate) and USA (country with a high crime rate). According to the INTERPOL data, for murder, the rate in 1998 was 0.71 per 100,000 population for Mali, 1.10 for Japan, and 6.3 for USA. For rape, the rate in 1998 was 0.46 for Mali, compared with 1.48 for Japan and 34.4 for USA. For robbery, the rate in 1998 was 0.05 for Mali, 2.71 for Japan, and 165.2 for USA. For aggravated assault, the rate in 1998 was 1.45 for Mali, 15.40 for Japan, and 360.5 for USA. For burglary, the rate in 1998 was 0.77 for Mali, 187.93 for Japan, and 862.0 for USA. The rate of larceny for 1998 was 0.94 for Mali, 1198.13 for Japan, and 2728.1 for USA. The rate for motor vehicle theft in 1998 was 0.34 for Mali, compared with 28.37 for Japan and 459.0 for USA. The rate for all index offenses combined was 10.03 for Mali, compared with 1709.88 for Japan and 4615.5 for USA. (Note: data were not reported to INTERPOL by the USA for 1998, but were derived from the Uniform Crime Report for 1998)



Mali's legal system is based on codes inherited at independence from France and customary law. New laws have been enacted to make the system conform to Malian life, but French colonial laws not abrogated still have the force of law. The constitution provides for the independence of the judiciary. However, the Ministry of Justice appoints judges and supervises both law enforcement and judicial functions. The Supreme Court has both judicial and administrative powers. Under the constitution, there is a separate constitutional court and a high court of justice with the power to try senior government officials in cases of treason.



Security forces are composed of the army, air force, Gendarmerie, the National Guard, and the police. While civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces, there were a few instances in which security forces acted independently of government authority. The army and air force are under the control of the civilian Minister of the Armed Forces and Veterans, as are the Gendarmerie and the National Guard. The police are under the Ministry of Security and Civil Protection. The police and gendarmes share responsibility for internal security; the police are in charge of urban areas only. In 2001, some members of the security forces committed human rights abuses.

In 2000 security forces reportedly tortured and killed two suspects in custody. After nearly 2 years, the Government has not released the results of an investigation into the incident.

There were no reports of the arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life committed by the Government or its agents during the year 2001; however, in 2000 there were reports that security forces committed extrajudicial killings. Following the 2000 killings of 3 tourists in Kidal, the Government questioned at least 40 persons and detained 9 in connection with the killings. Three suspects reportedly died while being transported to jail; there were reports that soldiers tortured and killed two of the suspects. Three other suspects remained in detention at year's end 2001. In 2000 the Government initiated an investigation into the incident, but it had not released the results by year's end 2001. No action was taken against the soldiers accused of the torture and killing of the two suspects by year's end 2001.

The Constitution prohibits such practices; however, in 2000 there were reports that soldiers tortured and killed two suspects arrested in connection with the February 2000 murder of three tourists. No action was taken against the soldiers accused of the torture and killing of the two suspects by year's end 2001. There were no new reports of torture by security forces during the year 2001.

In June, 2001, in Bamako, a bus driver fell or jumped to his death from a bridge while being pursued by the police. Bus drivers blamed the police for the death and rioted; they attacked police officers and destroyed police shelters and traffic lights. After the rioting, police and city officials met with representatives from the "umbrella" national union. The drivers agreed to use union funds to pay for repairs to traffic lights and other public facilities damaged in the riots; by year's end 2001, most of the police shelters and traffic lights had been repaired.

Some police and gendarmes extorted bribes at vehicle checkpoints.

On January 3, 2001, in Tarkint, armed men attacked the Gendarmerie Headquarters, took four gendarmes hostage, and stole four vehicles, some firearms, and ammunition; two gendarmes were injured in the attack. There were unconfirmed reports that the assailants belonged to the group led by ex-Tuareg rebel Ibrahim Bahanga. In June Bahanga and the Government signed a peace agreement, and no additional incidents were reported during the year 2001.

Police searches are infrequent and require judicial warrants. However, security forces maintain physical and technical surveillance of individuals and groups believed to be threats to internal security, including surveillance of telephone and written correspondence of individuals deemed by a magistrate to be a threat to national security. There were no reports of such government surveillance during the year 2001.



The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the Government generally observed these prohibitions; however, on occasion police arrest and detain persons arbitrarily.

Judicial warrants are required for arrest. The normal procedure is for the complainant to deliver the warrant, which stipulates when the person is to appear at the police station. In some cases, the police will serve a warrant. This normally is done at the request of a relative or if there is a bribe. Frequently in cases where money is involved, the arrested person will agree to resolve the case at the police precinct; and the police will receive a portion of the recovered money.

The Constitution provides that suspects must be charged or released within 48 hours and that they are entitled to counsel; however, in practice detainees are not always charged within the 48-hour period.

Limited rights of bail or the granting of conditional liberty exist, particularly for minor crimes and civil matters. On occasion the authorities released defendants on their own recognizance.

In October, 2001, the police arrested and detained 36 Pakistani preachers for allegedly entering the country illegally. One of the men was charged with possession of false passports and remained in custody at year's end 2001. The others were released and allowed to leave the country; however, it was unclear whether they had departed.

In February 2000, security forces questioned at least 40 persons and arrested 9 suspects in connection with the murder of 3 tourists. According to reports, soldiers tortured and killed two of the suspects; three of the suspects remained in detention at year's end 2001. The Government issued warrants for murder, but the investigation continued at year's end 2001.

Administrative backlogs and insufficient lawyers, judges, and courts often caused lengthy delays in bringing persons to trial. In extreme cases, individuals have remained in prison for several years before coming to trial. Local lawyers have estimated that approximately half of prison inmates are pretrial detainees. This conclusion was confirmed in March 1999 during the Judiciary Forum seminar.

The Government does not use forced exile.


The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, in 2001 the executive branch continued to exert influence over the judicial system. The Ministry of Justice appoints and has the power to suspend judges; it supervises both law enforcement and judicial functions. The President heads the Superior Judicial Council, which oversees judicial activity. Domestic human rights groups alleged that there were instances of bribery and influence peddling in the courts. In 2000 the Government launched a campaign against corruption that led to the detention of many senior civil servants, businessmen, and political leaders from all parties. At year's end 2001, they still were detained and under investigation.

The Supreme Court has both judicial and administrative powers. The Constitution established a separate Constitutional Court that oversees issues of constitutionality and acts as an election arbiter. The Constitution also provides for the convening of a High Court of Justice with the power to try senior government officials in cases of treason.

Except in the case of minors, trials are public, and defendants have the right to be present and have an attorney of their choice. Defendants are presumed innocent and have the right to confront witnesses and to appeal decisions to the Supreme Court. Court-appointed attorneys are provided for the indigent without charge. The village chief in consultation with the elders decides the majority of disputes in rural areas. If these decisions are challenged in court, only those found to have legal merit are upheld.

In 1997 former President Traore, his wife Mariam, and former customs director Abdramane Douah Sissoko, who were placed under detention following the fall of the Traore regime in 1991, were charged with "economic crimes," including "abuse of a position of power" and "illicit enrichment." Five other senior officials of the Traore regime also were tried in 1997 on similar charges. Traore, his wife Mariam, and Sissoko were convicted and sentenced to death in January 1999; these sentences also were commuted in 1999, and they are serving life sentences. In August 2000, Traore and his wife were released in order to travel to Algiers for medical treatment; they returned after they received treatment, and they remained in prison at year's end 2001. Early in the year, charges were dismissed against the five other senior officials of the Traore regime, and they were released from prison. On May 2, President Konare pardoned Sissoko, who was the last of the senior officials from the Traore regime still in prison.

There were no other reports of political prisoners.



Prison conditions are poor. Prisons continued to be overcrowded, medical facilities were inadequate, and food supplies were limited. A new prison facility for women and juveniles was built in Bamako during the year 2001. The new prison has allowed for some separation of prison populations in Bamako; however, the situation remains unchanged outside the capital, where men and women are housed in the same building but in separate cells. In Bamako juvenile offenders usually are held in the same prison as adult offenders, but they are kept in separate cells. There were no reports that women or juveniles were abused by other inmates or by guards. Pretrial detainees are held in the same compound as convicted prisoners.

The Government permits prison visits by human rights monitors. Several organizations, including the Malian Association of Human Rights, the Malian Association of Women Jurists, and other nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) have visited prisoners and are working with women and juvenile prisoners to improve their conditions. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) continued to visit imprisoned leading members of the former government.


Domestic violence against women, including spousal abuse, is tolerated and common; however, no statistics were available on the extent of the problem. Assault in marriage is a crime; however, police were reluctant to enforce laws against domestic violence.

Female genital mutilation (FGM), which is condemned widely by international health experts as damaging to both physical and psychological health, is common, especially in rural areas, and is performed on girls at an early age. According to domestic NGO's, approximately 95 percent of adult women have undergone FGM. The practice was widespread among most regions and ethnic groups, is not subject to class boundaries, and is not religiously based. There are no laws against FGM, and the Government has not proposed legislation prohibiting FGM. The Government is pursuing a program of public awareness rather than legal prosecution of women involved in the practice. It supported educational efforts to eliminate the practice through seminars and conferences and provides media access to proponents of its elimination. The National Committee Against Violence Towards Women links all the NGO's active in preventing FGM. Throughout the year, various NGO's campaigned against FGM. In 1999 the Government instituted a two-phased plan to eliminate all forms of FGM by 2008. The first phase, scheduled for 1999-2004, is intended to be one of education and dissemination of information. There has been some public dissemination of information in urban areas, but the program has developed slowly.

Women have very limited access to legal services. They are particularly vulnerable in cases of divorce, child custody, and inheritance rights, as well as in the general protection of civil rights.

Despite legislation giving women equal rights regarding property, traditional practice and ignorance of the law prevent women from taking full advantage of the law. Prospective spouses choose between polygynous and monogamous marriages; both parties must consent to the marriage. However, when no preference is specified in the marriage certificate, judges assume that the marriage is polygynous. A community property marriage must be specified in the marriage contract. Traditional practice discriminates against women in inheritance matters. For example, men inherit most of the family wealth, and women receive a much smaller portion of estates.


Education is free and, in principle, open to all, although the majority of students leave school by the age of 12. Students must provide their own uniforms and school supplies to attend public schools. While primary school is compulsory, only 56 percent of children receive a basic education (46 percent for girls) because there is a low degree of adherence to the requirement for compulsory education, a lack of primary schools, poverty, cultural tendencies to place less emphasis on education for girls, and the fact that most of the population live in rural areas. Literacy rates among girls remained significantly lower than for boys.

There is no constitutional or legal provision to protect the interests and rights of children, and there is no juvenile court system. However, the Social Services Department investigates and intervenes in cases of reported child abuse or neglect. According to local human rights organizations, reported cases are rare; however, statistics are unreliable.

FGM is performed commonly on young girls.

There were credible reports that children were sold and trafficked into forced labor in Cote d'Ivoire.

Child labor is a problem.


On June 29, Parliament approved a law that would make child trafficking punishable by 5 to 20 years in prison. There also are laws that prohibit the contractual use of persons without their consent; however, children are trafficked for forced labor in Cote d'Ivoire. An estimated 15,000 Malian children between the ages of 9 and 12 have been sold into forced labor on cotton, coffee, and cocoa farms in northern Cote d'Ivoire over the past few years; an even greater number have been pressed into domestic service. Organized networks of traffickers deceive the children and their families into believing that they will be given paid jobs outside of their villages. They then are sold to plantation owners for sums ranging between $20 and $40 (14,500 and 29,000 CFA francs). The children reportedly are forced to work 12 hours per day without pay, and often they are abused physically.

Penalties for violations of the law prohibiting forced contractual labor include a fine or hard labor. Penalties increase if a minor is involved; however, these penalties were not applied during the year 2001. The problem of trafficking is handled by both the Ministry for the Promotion of Women, Children, and the Family and the Ministry of Employment, Public Services, and Labor. Both ministries in coordination with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Territorial Administration have developed a program to identify and rehabilitate victims, educate the population, and strengthen the legal system with regard to the movement and trafficking of minors. Welcome centers have been set up in Mopti, Sikasso, and Bamako to assist child trafficking victims in returning to their families. During the year 2001, the Ministry of Labor selected a coordinator, Almoustapha Toure, who specifically will handle child trafficking issues, as opposed to general child labor issues.

The Government took some steps to halt child trafficking and repatriate children to the country from Cote d'Ivoire; however, there was no estimate of the number of children in Cote d'Ivoire. During the year 2001, more than 300 children were returned to their families from Cote d'Ivoire. This figure represents the number of children who were assisted at the Malian welcome centers; children who returned home without first going through a welcome center were not counted. In August 2000, the Government of Mali and the Government of Cote d'Ivoire signed a treaty to cooperate in combating trafficking. During the year 2001, approximately 10 traffickers were arrested in Sikasso. Some of the traffickers were citizens, but others were from other countries in the region. At year's end 2001, they were in detention awaiting trial.


Internet research assisted by Amy Hallquist

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