The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Mali is a State Party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Mali is also a State Party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the State has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.
At regional level, Mali is a State Party to the 1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. Article 11 provides as follows:
Every individual shall have the right to assemble freely with others. The exercise of this right shall be subject only to necessary restrictions provided for by law in particular those enacted in the interest of national security, the safety, health, ethics and rights and freedoms of others.
Mali is also a State Party to the 1998 Protocol on the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights, and has allowed the right of petition to the Court by individuals and non-governmental organisations.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Under Article 5 of the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Mali, the state recognises and guarantees, under conditions established by law, freedom of assembly and demonstrations.
Ordinance No. 36/PCG of 28 March 1959 is the main legislation governing assemblies. According to Article 6 (1) and (2), a declaration must be made to the relevant administrative authority (Mayor, Prefect, and Sub-Prefect) by the organisers of any demonstration on a public highway. The notification must be made at least 24 hours in advance.
According to the Government of Mali:
The limits imposed on freedom of demonstration seek mainly to ensure the preservation of public order. Indeed, the mayor, representatives of the State (prefect, sub-prefect, Governor) and, in the last resort, the Minister in charge of Territorial Administration and Local Government may ban demonstrations when they are likely to disturb public order. The organizers are immediately notified of the prohibition decision. Also, the administrative authority has the power to stop any procession, march or gathering on a public highway and in public places, if the maintenance of public order so requires. It may, after warning, intervene to disperse and ban any demonstration which degenerates. The summations are however not required "if violence or assault are exercised against the security forces or if the latter cannot properly defend the land they occupy or the positions they are bound to defend."
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the State and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.
A 1959 Ordinance (No. 34) allows the police to use force to disperse an unlawful assembly if it fails to do so after three warnings.
When law enforcement operations are conducted by the gendarmerie, a 1997 code of conduct regulates their actions.1997 Code of Conduct of Armed Forces and Security Forces of Mali.A number of provisions are included on the use of force, in particular relating to assemblies. Therein it is stated that the Security Forces should not employ force and firearms to disperse unauthorised assemblies, but should seek to use non-violent methods. When assemblies are violent, the use of force should be the minimum necessary and should respect human rights.Art. 12, 1997 Code of Conduct of Armed Forces and Security Forces of Mali.
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
When military forces are tackling internal disturbances, they must identify themselves and issue a clear warning before using a firearm.Art. 34, 1997 Code of Conduct of Armed Forces and Security Forces of Mali.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
Mali has not come before the Human Rights Committee in recent years. The 2018 Universal Periodic Review of Mali under the UN Human Rights Council did not address the right of peaceful assembly.
Mali last submitted a national report under the 1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights in 2016. It addressed the right of peaceful assembly in some detail.
Views of Civil Society
CIVICUS reported on the military coup on 18 August 2020 following mass anti-government protests in June. Military officers under the banner of the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (NCSP) toppled arrested president Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and prime minister Boubou Cissé, along with other officials. A few hours later in a broadcast, president Keïta resigned, announced the dissolution of the government and the National Assembly and remained detained by NCSP until his release on 27 August 2020. The coup brought thousands of Malians to the streets in Bamako to celebrate the fall of the president and his government amid international condemnation of the coup. The African Union suspended Mali's membership, while ECOWAS, the regional bloc, ordered sanctions against Mali, including the closure of all borders with Mali, ceasing all economic, trade and financial flows and transactions between ECOWAS member states and Mali and the suspension of Mali from all decision-making bodies.
The mass anti-government protests in June 2020 followed disputed legislative elections. Underlying grievances include the failure of the government to respond to insecurity, both due to attacks by Islamist insurgent groups and inter-communal violence, its failure to stop the violence in the country, corruption and dire economic conditions.
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Mali:
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.