With the United Nations’ human rights sessions coming to an end in Geneva, contributor Christopher Woodburn writes about Mali’s worsening situation.


With countries such as Libya and Sri Lanka remaining profound issues of a concern, a recent side-event involving high-level international experts took place at the Palais des Nations in Geneva to draw attention to the deteriorating human rights situation in Mali.

Mr Suliman Baldo, the UN’s Independent Expert on the West African country’s human rights situation, highlighted its inherent structural problems. He also called for the support of the international community to address key issues such as human rights abuses as well as judicial and security problems. Stating that “bad governance, asymmetric development and ethno-cultural differences” have all contributed to the tensions which led to the 2012 crisis, he maintained that “the threat to human rights is both serious and has global repercussions.”

Mr Baldo also underlined specific regional problems, especially in the North, where drug, contraband and human trafficking are rife. Many of the clashes, including shootouts that have been occurring over the past several years, are the result of nationalist Touareg and Islamic factions seeking to protect established transport routes. “Civilians are often targeted in reprisals, which pose a significant challenge to the fundamental right of life, a central tenet to the human rights debate.” he continued. As recently pointed out in an IRIN report, Northern Malians were often the victims of a range of abuses, most of which took place after March 2012 when Islamic extremists occupied large parts of territory.

Mr Moctar Mariko, Chairman of the Malian Human Rights Association stressed the non-respect of humanitarian rights, as evidence of the random executions, kidnappings and instances of sexual violence that are afflicting the region come to light on a daily basis. “An increase of violence in the northern regions in 2015 shows that the international community should continue to assist the Malian government in tackling the root causes of tensions within the country,” he stated.

Head of the Africa Office of the International Federation for Human Rights, Mr Florant Geel, stressed the importance of avoiding impunity to those who have committed war and humanitarian crimes—this despite a fledgling legal system which, according to the IRIN report, “lacks sufficient numbers of judges, persecutors and forensic experts, and is hampered by logistical and financial constraints”. He also endorsed a regionalisation process, which would see Northern Mali gain a certain level of autonomy. Similarly, whilst praising the positive work carried out by different organisations in the country, Human Rights Division Director Mr Guillaume Ngefa of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali stated that human rights should be at the centre of any future initiative seeking to improve the situation in the country.

Christopher Woodburn is a Geneva-based journalist.