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 between rival ethnic groups, Islamic militant groups and the current government 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.
The Malian government is currently working on a draft law to protect human rights defenders; and in 2014 civil society organisations advocating for human rights came together to form the Réseau des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (RDDH) – (Network of Human Rights Defenders) whose mandate is to protect human rights defenders. However, some human rights defenders including those working on women’s rights and those who are LGBTI or working on LGBTI rights still operate in a climate of fear. Women human rights defenders face both legal discrimination and cultural obstacles. Malian law discriminates against women in regards to inheritance, marriage and divorce. Additionally, the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is legal, and practised widely throughout the country. Sexual harassment in not illegal and although rape and sexual assault are illegal, these crimes are rarely denounced, let alone tried in court. This makes the position of women human rights defenders particularly precarious, and hinders their work.
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. Especially in the north of the country, journalists find it hard to access information about the human rights situation, and they are dissuaded from covering difficult topics through threats and harassment.