M. Konaté, “Dans la Prison Centrale Surpeuplée de Bamako, La Menace Inquiétante du COVID-19,” Carnetdusud, 8 May 2020, https://carnetdusud.wordpress.com/2020/05/08/dans-la-prison-centrale-surpeuplee-de-bamako-la-menace-inquietante-du-covid-19/
The Republic of Mali is a landlocked country in West Africa with a population of more than 19 million people. Following the confirmation of the two first COVID-19 cases in the country in March 2020, the country was placed under a state of emergency and a curfew was imposed. On 18 March 2020, the government suspended flights from affected countries, closed schools, and banned large public gatherings. As of 6 April 2021, the country had recorded 10,620 cases of COVID-19 and 393 related deaths.
According to UNHCR, as of February 2021, there were 47,581 refugees, 974 asylum seekers, and nearly 350,000 internally displaced people in the country. UNICEF reports that it has provided hygiene promotion materials that have been used in 315 health care facilities, 633 schools, and benefitting 70,659 households. The country ordered 9.4 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to vaccinate 4.2 million people, around 20 percent of the population, and received its first batch of 396,000 doses on 6 March 2021.
In December 2020, UNHCR reported that conflict, insecurity, COVID-19, and deteriorating economic conditions were leading to a rise in trafficking of children, forced labour, and forced recruitment by armed groups in Mali. With schools closed, children are increasingly susceptible to being pushed to work in gold mines, particularly in Gao and Kidal. UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection said that “as a result of conflict and socio-economic deterioration worsened by the pandemic, we are seeing some of the most egregious human rights violations in the Sahel. … Children are being forced to fight by armed groups, trafficked, raped, sold, forced into sexual or domestic servitude, or married off.”
The GDP has been unable to establish the extent to which detention facilities are used in Mali as part of immigration enforcement procedures or to obtain details on COVID-19 related measures taken to safeguard people in immigration or criminal custody, or those in international protection situations.
According to Article 20 of Law 04-058 of 25 November 2004, relating to the conditions of entry, stay and establishment of foreigners (Loi n°04-058 du 25 Novembre 2004 relative aux conditions d’entrée, de séjour et d’établissement des étrangers), non-citizens without a relevant authorisation or that stay after the expiration of their authorisation, may be sentenced to imprisonment from 3 months to 3 years and given a fine of 200,000 to 500,000 CFA francs. Non-citizens expelled from the country are also handed a re-entry ban and according to Article 22, non-citizens that return during their ban may be imprisoned for three years and be given a fine of 500,000 to 1,000,000 CFA francs.
The country has ratified several human rights treaties, including the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICMW) and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). In its concluding observations in 2014, the Committee on Migrant Workers (CMW) noted the Malian delegation’s comments that migrant workers are very rarely detained for violating migration legislation, but nonetheless remained concerned by the lack of statistics produced by the country. In consequence, the Committee on Migrant Workers recommended that Mali “(a) Indicate in its next periodic report the number of migrants, disaggregated by sex, nationality, and/or origin, who are currently being detained for having violated the legislation on migration, specifying the location, average duration and conditions of detention, and providing information on the decisions taken regarding such migrants; (b) Consider decriminalising irregular migration and envisaging appropriate administrative penalties for migrants who have violated the legislation on immigration (...); (c) Detain migrant workers for immigration offences only in exceptional circumstances, as a last resort, and ensure in all cases that they are held separately from ordinary prisoners and that women are held separately from men and minors from adults.”
During its review for the third cycle of the UN Universal Periodic Review, Mali received several human rights recommendations including: adopting “all measures necessary to ensure the right to education in emergencies and conflict situations, and ensure that education is available to all, in particular migrants, refugees and asylum-seeking children (Honduras) (para. 114.81)”, “adopt concrete measures in favour of migrants and asylum seekers (Haiti) (para. 114.131),” and “improve conditions in detention centres (Zambia) (para. 114.54).”
As regards the country’s prison facilities, in April 2020, the country’s president pardoned 1,200 prisoners in a bid to decongest overcrowded prisons and avoid an outbreak of COVID-19. The Bamako prison for instance, has a capacity of 400 places, and yet holds more than 2,400 prisoners. A further 400 prisoners were pardoned by the President on 20 May 2020. To fight the spread of the virus within the country’s prisons, the International Committee of the Red Cross delivered 10 tons of hygiene and sanitary products and installed 48 hand washing facilities in 11 prisons for 5,400 prisoners. In May 2020, a visitor that entered Bamako prison said that guards were not wearing masks, in direct contradiction of the administration’s instructions, and stated that hygiene products were missing.