Following the 2012 military coup that ousted the previous president, Amadou Toumani Toure, Mali has experienced significant instability and upheaval, especially in the north of the country. The security situation is fragile even though a new president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, was elected in 2013, and a peace agreement was signed in 2015. This instability severely affects the work and capacity of human rights defenders in Mali, as a climate of fear and insecurity is pervasive, especially in the north of the country where the situation remains unstable. Armed groups, who are both pro- and anti-government, have launched attacks against state security forces, UN peacekeepers, humanitarian workers, HRDs, and ordinary civilians. HRDs who document and report on issues of human rights abuses face threats, intimidation, and physical attacks. Those who have accused State forces of having committed human rights violations are particularly at risk and journalists find it hard to access information about the human rights situation, and they are dissuaded from covering difficult topics through threats and harassment.
In December 2017, parliament adopted a law on the protection of HRDs with Mali becoming the third African country to do so. HRDs in Mali work in a difficult environment: WHRDs who work with women survivors of violence are targeted along with HRDs working on corruption and land-grabbing, prisoners’ rights and LGBTI defenders remain at risk. While Mali enjoys a relatively open press environment, journalists often practise self-censorship for fear of repercussion from the government and militant groups. In the past few years, journalists have been arbitrarily detained and threatened for working on cases of government business and corruption within government ranks.