Mali: Transitional authorities must protect civic space, respect freedom of expression and association says UN expert
GENEVA (20 February 2023) – A UN expert today urged authorities in Mali to open up civic and democratic space and redouble efforts to fight impunity for human rights violations and abuses as the country embarks on an electoral process.
"I welcome the progress made in the process of democratic transition and the slight decline in documented human rights violations and abuses in the last quarter of 2022,” said Alioune Tine, the UN independent expert on the human rights situation in Mali in a statement issued at the end of a ten-day visit to the country.
“As the country embarks on an electoral process, a debate of ideas on programmes and policies must be encouraged,” Tine said.
The expert said he had faced difficulties during his visit to Mali.
"My mission took place in a tense context, marked by the continued shrinking of civic space, attacks on human rights defenders and civil society by state and non-state actors,” he said.
Tine’s arrival in Mali on 5 February coincided with the decision by Malian authorities the same day to declare the Director of the Human Rights Division of the UN Peacekeeping Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) "persona non grata”. “For the first time, upon our arrival at the Bamako airport, my assistant and I were subjected to stop and questioning by police officers. Later, I protested to the authorities who expressed their regrets. Unfortunately, this heavy and unhealthy atmosphere is maintained by a group of individuals and non-state organisations who threaten and discredit civil society and international institutions and overshadow progress made by Mali," he warned.
"I am extremely concerned about the shrinking of civic space, freedom of expression and association, and the worsening of self-censorship, as illustrated by the attacks on human rights defenders denounced by several actors, including the National Human Rights Commission of Mali. I myself was the subject of verbal attacks on social networks before and during my visit,” the UN expert said.
Tine said human rights defenders, journalists, and other media professionals mentioned taboo subjects that they no longer dared to discuss for fear of reprisals by Malian transitional authorities and their supporters, particularly on social media.
The UN expert said human rights violations and abuses documented by MINUSMA in the final quarter of 2022 showed a 7.46% decrease. Tine commended the 1 February 2023 adoption of a draft text on the creation of a national human rights directorate and efforts underway to prosecute around 100 persons involved in human rights abuses related to descent-based slavery.
"Mali must consolidate these gains and complete judicial investigations to bring to justice all perpetrators of serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law and abuses, including members of non-state armed groups, militias, and members of the Defence and Security Forces.
He highlighted serious human rights abuses that continue to be committed by violent extremist groups, including murders, kidnappings, threats against civilians, looting of livestock, and rape of women and girls.
Tine said he received reports during his visit that Russian military and security personnel (referred to as "Wagner") participated in military operations, terrorised villagers, executed civilians, stole people's property including livestock and jewellery, and raped women and girls. “Malian authorities emphasised that Russian military and security personnel in Mali were military instructors deployed to train Malian Security Forces in using military equipment procured from the Russian Federation. However, the authorities undertook to investigate these alleged violations involving Russian military and security personnel,” Tine said.
“However, I would like to emphasise, as I have in previous reports, that credible sources have shared information with me that Russian military and security personnel are indeed participating in combat operations and committing serious human rights violations and abuses,” the expert said.
During his visit, Tine met with Malian authorities, civil society and victims' associations, non-governmental organizations, media professionals, political parties, diplomats, the African Union and the United Nations. Tine will present his annual report to the Human Rights Council in March 2023.