“14 dead, including two children, and at least 158 injured.” This is the assessment made by the Division of Human Rights and Protection (DDHP) of the MINUSMA after several months of investigation into the violence that occurred in Bamako and other major cities in the country, on the sidelines of the anti-government demonstrations.
The events date back to mid-July, when thousands of Malians took to the streets to demand the resignation of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta. United under the 5 June Movement – Rally of Patriotic Forces (M5-RFP), they then held a standoff against the authorities.
On Friday 10 July, the M5-RFP held its third major demonstration where several of its leading figures reiterated their call for civil disobedience. “At 15:50, responding to the call of the leaders [of the movement], a large crowd of demonstrators, visibly unarmed, split into several groups, moved towards the National Assembly, the Prime Minister’s office, the administrative offices, the ORTM, and the first and second bridges, as per the instructions received,” said the UN mission’s report.
The security operation is then reinforced and the crackdown escalates over several bloody days, as the DDHP recalls. Its 30-page report was made public on 28 December, more than four months after the coup d’état that overthrew IBK and the establishment of a transition.
At the end of its investigation, the division concluded that “14 formally identified people were killed during the interventions of law enforcement agencies, which included the gendarmerie, the police, the National Guard and Forsat [Special Anti-Terrorist Force].” In addition to the arrests, it mentions that at least 158 civilians and soldiers were injured between 10 and 13 July.
These incidents took place at ORTM, whose premises were taken over by demonstrators, but also in the vicinity of the National Assembly, in the Badalabougou district, and around the residence of Imam Mahmoud Dicko, who was the moral authority of the M5.
The report also refers to the looting, which is attributed to the demonstrators, and to the violence committed against the security forces, which resulted in a number of injuries among their ranks.
Who was responsible?
MINUSMA highlighted the arrangements made for supervising the demonstration, as they had had access to the law enforcement agencies’ deployment plan. However, the report doesn’t name any officials.
On 10 July, “under the authority of the chiefs of police, the gendarmerie, civil protection and the chief of staff of the national guard, the regional director of police in the district of Bamako was the general supervisor of the entire tactical plan. He was assisted by the regional commander of the gendarmerie, the GMO commander [groupement de maintien de l’ordre], the regional director of civil protection, the GMS commander [groupement mobile de sécurité] and the GIGN (Rive droite – Rive gauche) commanders,” the report says.
Forsat’s involvement in the supervision of demonstrations is one of the most controversial points. On whose orders did they act? What has become of these forces since the coup? The report does not answer these questions.
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When contacted, the Malian army did not wish to comment on the accusations made against the law enforcement agencies.
“It’s a descriptive report that leaves many questions unanswered. We want another investigation conducted by Malians, who would place the responsibilities and say who the real victims are,” said Clément Dembélé, president of the Platform for the Fight against Corruption and Unemployment in Mali.
This M5 member also rejects certain aspects of the document. “We have counted at least 23 deaths. As for the damage inflicted at ORTM which was attributed to the demonstrators, it was more likely to have been caused by the law enforcement agencies which had burst in and fired on them,” he added.
“It is not for us to determine who was responsible for what. We only ask for investigations and say which units were involved. We are ready to make the results of our investigations available to the authorities,” said Guillaume Ngefa, director of the human rights division.
The deaths recorded over the weekend had brought Mali to a stalemate. To calm tensions, Boubou Cissé, then Prime Minister, had announced the opening of investigations.
A few days before the publication of the UN mission’s report, the public prosecutor, Mahamadou Kassogué, issued a statement underlining that a judicial enquiry had been opened. It touches upon, amongst other things, “assassinations, attempted assassinations and the illegal use of firearms against demonstrators.” Kassogué invited “victims and witnesses to his office to meet the investigative judges assigned to the case.”
Getting justice was important to the leaders of the M5, some of whom had been arrested and for others like Mahmoud Dicko, who had personally led the funeral prayer for some of the victims in his mosque on 12 July. In the aftermath of the coup, they reiterated this demand before the transitional authorities.
“It is a question of political will. Bah N’Daw [the transitional president] said he is fighting against impunity. That means we should be able to quickly find out who is responsible. In Mali, there is still talk of open investigations. It has to be brought to a successful conclusion. And the junta has the means to say who gave the order,” says Dembélé.
For Ngefa, the transition authorities know they are expected to decide on the matter. “The fight against impunity is a UN criterion and the transitional authorities will be judged on their ability to respond to such violations of rights.”
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