The situation in Mali in 2012 can be examined by two major events. First, the military coup and the collapse of the democratic regime which led to the suspension of the constitution; and second, the rebellion in the Northern part of the country. These events led to democratic erosion in Mali both through quick and complete collapse of the democratic regime and slow and incremental change in the quality of the democracy and its institutions.
Military Coup D’etat and Collapse of the Democratic Regime
On 21 March 2012, a military coup d’etat took place in Mali which resulted in the ousting of President Amadou Toumani Touré and suspension of the civil and constitutional rights. The coup was organized by mid-ranking soldiers in the Malian army led by Captain Amadou Sanogo. Following the military coup, Sanogo announced the suspension of the constitutional rule, as well as civil and constitutional rights of association and movement.
The military coup replaced democracy with authoritarianism through an “authoritarian reversion”. There was a quick and complete democratic erosion which weakened the three pillars of democracy. First, it weakened the democratic electoral system with free and fair elections; second, the right to speech and association was suspended; and third, the stability, predictability, and integrity of the rule of law were weakened. The coup also led to significant human rights violations including arbitrary killings, arrest, and detention of both soldiers and civilians. Amnesty International reported that the victims include senior members of the Malian army, members of the government, political leaders of the civil society, as well as ordinary citizens and foreign nationals.
Non-State Armed Violence
Since the beginning of 2012, there has been a non-international armed conflict in Mali, which is named as the worst crisis in the country’s recent history. The conflict started in January 2012 between the Malian government and the organized armed groups and between such groups within the territory of Mali. Non-state groups such as the separatist Tuareg rebels (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (“MNLA”)), Islamists armed groups (Ansar Eddin, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (“AQIM”) and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (“MUJAO”) and the Arab and Songhay militias were behind this rebellion.
The conflict started on 17 January 2012 with the attack of MNLA on the military base of the Malian Forces located in the Gao region. In a short period, other non-state armed groups joined the rebellion. Even though these groups lacked coordination with each other, they seized control of Northern Mali. By 2 April 2012, major cities and military bases were in control of the rebels, which resulted in the withdrawal of the Malian forces from the north. In June 2012, armed confrontations between the organized armed groups, especially between the MNLA and Ansar Eddin, were started.
Amnesty International reported that human rights and humanitarian law violations in Northern Mali were both conducted by the Malian authorities and the non-state armed groups. The Malian Army indiscriminately attacked civilian populations and used civilian targets in the armed confrontation against the MNLA. The attacks include helicopter bombings, executions, ill-treatment against the Tuareg population, arbitrary arrest and detention. The violations conducted by non-state armed groups can be categorized under sexual violence, deliberate and arbitrary killings, the use of child soldiers, restricting rights and freedoms of the northern population.
The non-state armed violence in the northern part of Mali resulted in a slow and incremental change in the democratic regime. Protection of fundamental rights and freedoms is a central element of democracy. The above-mentioned human rights violations conducted by the Malian authorities, as well as the non-state armed groups, demonstrate significant abuses of fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals. This crisis not only threatened international peace and security, but also weakened the democratic regime in Mali.
International Reaction to the Crisis
Considering the Situation in the Republic of Mali, the International Criminal Court (“ICC”) brought charges against Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi and Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Alleged, who were alleged members of Ansar Eddine. Al Mahdi was “found guilty as a co-perpetrator of the war crime consisting in intentionally directing attacks against religious and historic buildings in Timbuktu, Mali, in June and July 2012” and sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment. The proceedings in the Al Hassan Case are still in progress and he is charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Further, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolutions 2056 and 2071 on 5 July and 21 October respectively to condemn the military coup and the non-state armed violence. The Security Council also called upon “all parties in the North of Mali to cease all abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law”.
In 2015, a Peace Agreement was signed under the pressure from the international community. The mediation team -which include Algeria, France, the United States, UN Stabilisation Mission in Mali (“MINUSMA”), the Economic Community of West African States (“ECOWAS”), the African Union (“AU”) and the European Union (“EU”) led the negotiations. Even though this was a significant attempt to restore democracy and constitutional order in Mali, it was not sufficient to repair the democratic erosion. As of January 2022, the political system of Mali is still fragile. In fact, the 2021 crisis, including a military coup, demonstrated that Mali was not able to overcome the multidimensional erosion of democracy.
*Photo by James Wiseman on Unsplash, Creative Commons Zero license.
Agreement for the Peace and Reconciliation in Mali Resulting from the Algiers Process <https://www.un.org/en/pdfs/EN-ML_150620_Accord-pour-la-paix-et-la-reconciliation-au-Mali_Issu-du-Processus-d’Alger.pdf> accessed 18 January 2022.
Amnesty International, Mali: Five months of crisis: Armed rebellion and military coup <https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/afr37/001/2012/en/> accessed 18 January 2022.
Aziz Huq and Tom Ginsburg. “How to Lose a Constitutional Democracy.” UCLA Law Review 65, no. 78 (2017).
Human Rights Watch, Mali Conflict and Aftermath Compendium of Human Rights Wacth Reporting 2012-2017 <https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/supporting_resources/malicompendium0217.pdf>> accessed 18 January 2022.
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Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre, The Regional Impact of the Armed Conflict and French Intervention in Mali <https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/163177/f18726c3338e39049bd4d554d4a22c36.pdf> accessed 18 January 2022.
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United Nations Security Council Resolution 2071(2012) http://unscr.com/en/resolutions/doc/2071> accessed 18 January 2022.
This is a very interesting and insightful post for many reasons, perhaps above all others being that it shows that there is no set “timeline”, as it were, to the process of democratic erosion, nor can democratic erosion necessarily be traced to one source. Mali’s multiple crises over the past decade show us that the true outcomes of various political events can be difficult to fully and accurately predict, and emphasize the need for a careful analysis of multiple factors of a country when the process of democratic erosion appears to be taking place. Would the coup have happened without the armed conflict? Would we be thinking of Mali’s democratic erosion on similar terms if the coup hadn’t happened — i.e., would it have been paced the same, and involved the same facets of democracy? It’s quite interesting to think about democratic erosion as a sort of scientific experiment, with independent and dependent variables — what truly is causing the process to happen? On an unrelated note, perhaps I am just cynical, but the responses to this crisis seem inadequate to me. I’m not sure what good condemnations will do to a country where democracy is eroding, and simple requests to stop seem naive to me. It’s good that more concrete policies have been put in place, but a shame that they, too, seem to have been unable to fully stop the process. To be sure, doing so is a tall order, due to the complexities of the conflict and how so much of the democratic backsliding overlaps. If we can’t trace a problem to its specific source, it becomes much more difficult to solve — perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that Mali continues to struggle with this issue.