Header image for news printout

Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights reviews the initial report of Mali

GENEVA (26 September 2018) - The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights today examined the initial report of Mali on the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in the country.

Mamadou Henri Konaté, Permanent Representative of Mali to the United Nations Office at Geneva, presenting the report, explained that the delay in its submission was due to the upheaval caused by armed conflict in the country in recent years.  The information included in the report was limited to the period 1976-2012, and the Ambassador updated the Committee on the situation post 2012, noting in particular the economic downturn due to the 2012 multidimensional crisis, which had seriously affected the implementation of the Covenant.  To counter such a situation, the 2013-2018 action programme had been put in place, articulated around six axes: establishing strong and credible institutions; restoring the security of people and property; enacting a national reconciliation policy; reconstructing schools; forging an emerging economy; and implementing an active social development policy.  Agriculture remained the main sector of the economy, which meant that the country as a whole was highly vulnerable to climate and environmental factors.  Given the special situation of the regions in the North, the Government, in cooperation with its partners, had launched an emergency programme for the revival of development of northern regions, as well as a reconstruction and economic recovery programme, while the Social Emergency Programme launched by President Keita, aimed to meet the challenges that remained, to ensure the well-being of the entire population, concluded the Ambassador.

In the dialogue that followed, Committee Experts acknowledged the burden of the structural adjustment programmes imposed by the International Monetary Fund in the past, and how it affected the implementation of the International Covenant.  They recognized Mali’s great efforts to secure the territory, noting that without security, development was impossible.  The Experts inquired about the percentage of the gross domestic product allocated to ensuring that economic, social and cultural rights were enjoyed by all in the country, especially in light of acute regional disparities, evident in poverty rates, neonatal mortality, and youth unemployment.  In this vein, Experts remarked that the legal framework for combatting corruption did not seem to be sufficiently robust, while the protection of whistleblowers was considered weak.  Rather confusing and complicated rules governing healthcare coverage limited access to health services, Experts said, noting that any contributory system was likely to fail if people were too poor to pay even minimal user fees.  Experts discussed at length harmful traditional practices, including polygamy, child marriage, and female genital mutilation, noting with concern that 20 percent of girls married before the age of 15 and 50 percent before the age of 18, while 83 percent of women aged 15-49 were victims of female genital mutilation.  It was estimated that 55 percent of children between 5-14 were in work, they said with concern, asking about clear steps taken to end child labour.  

Concluding, Mohamed Ezzeldin Abdel-Moniem, Committee Rapporteur for Mali, welcomed Mali’s determination to move forward, and stressed that the country had the resources to build a strong economy and make progress on fundamental rights.  

In his concluding remarks, Ambassador Konaté reassured the Committee that all its comments and recommendations would be transmitted to the Government of Mali.

Maria Virginia Bras Gomes, Committee Chairperson, in conclusion, reiterated the importance of the delegation’s presence in this review, and urged Mali to provide a timely follow-up on the three priority topics that would be highlighted in the concluding observations.

The delegation of Mali consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Permanent Mission of Mali to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found at the session’s webpage.  The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings will be available via the following link: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/.

The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. tomorrow, 27 September, to review the fourth periodic report of Argentina (E/C.12/ARG/4).

Report

The Committee is considering the initial report of Mali (E/C.12/MLI/1).

Presentation of the Report

MAMADOU HENRI KONATÉ,Permanent Representative of Mali to the United Nations Office at Geneva, in the introduction of the report, explained that the delay in presenting the report on the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which Mali had ratified in 1974, was due to the upheaval caused by armed conflict in the country in recent years.  The information included in the report was limited to the period 1976-2012, therefore Mali would submit an addendum to the report on the progress made since 2012, and the challenges, said the Ambassador, proceeding to update the Committee on the situation post 2012.

Since its independence, Mali had focused on three broad development pillars: a planned economy, a structural adjustment policy, and a drive to reduce poverty.  The 2012 multidimensional crisis, including socio-economic and political crisis, had caused an economic downturn and a negative growth rate, where an initial forecast was 5.6 per cent growth, thus seriously affecting the implementation of the Covenant.  The Government had developed, in a participatory and inclusive manner, a 2013-2018 action programme articulated around six axes: establishing strong and credible institutions; restoring the security of people and property; enacting a national reconciliation policy; reconstructing schools; forging an emerging economy; and implementing an active social development policy.  Despite difficulties caused by the 2007-2008 global financial, food and energy crises, Mali, said the Ambassador, had enjoyed economic growth in the following years, thanks in particular to the political and social stability it had then known.  However, as agriculture was still the main sector in Mali, the economy remained highly vulnerable to climatic and environmental factors, therefore a lack of rainfall and a slowdown in the tertiary sector had led to a slower economic growth.  A new Framework for Economic Recovery and Sustainable Development 2016-2018 was in place, and Mali expected that the economic growth could increase from 5.3 per cent in 2017 to 6.8 per cent this year.

Mali had long been characterized by a lack of health care coverage for most of its people, therefore the compulsory health insurance had been replaced, as of 2009, with a medical assistance scheme for the needy.  The next step was the establishment of a universal health insurance plan, while the social protection system for the agricultural sector and the informal sector was being set up, Mr. Konaté added, noting that the limited geographic coverage of Mali’s institutions was still a challenge.

Mali was also committed to providing social housing – under the 2004-2015 programme, 8,585 homes had been built for low-income families, while an ongoing programme in the domain aimed for the construction of additional 12,500 units.  In the area of education, whilst progress had been made in the past, as a result of the recent security crisis in the country’s North, many children could not access schools.  As a remedy, the Government was transferring children from the affected areas to other schools.  Regarding the protection of cultural rights, Mali had convicted an individual, one of the perpetrators of the destruction of the holy places, and had transferred to the International Criminal Court another one for having played a leading role in the commission of crimes and persecutions inflicted by armed groups in Timbuktu.  In addition, the Malian Government was pursuing a "proactive policy of cultural promotion", inspired by the preamble of the Constitution on "the defense of cultural and linguistic diversity".

The protection of women and children was also a priority, where the Government had stepped up its efforts to eradicate the practice of female genital mutilation through the National Programme, which had seen more than 8,000 cutters abandon the practice in 1,200 villages.  Provisions repressing violence against women had been incorporated into the Criminal Code and Mali was celebrating 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.  The national gender policy aimed to protect the rights of women, strengthen the role of women in peace and reconciliation, and promote their access to elected office.  Measures were being taken to prevent the recruitment of children by armed groups, and for the reintegration demobilized minors who were considered, first and foremost, insisted the Ambassador, as victims.  Given the special situation of the regions in the North, the Government in cooperation with stakeholders, had launched an emergency programme for the revival of development of northern regions, as well as a reconstruction and economic recovery programme.  President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita had also launched a Social Emergency Programme to meet the challenges that remained to ensure the well-being of the entire population, concluded Ambassador Konaté.

Questions by the Committee Experts

MOHAMED EZZELDIN ABDEL-MONIEM,Committee Rapporteur for Mali, acknowledged the burden Mali had to bear because of thestructural adjustment programmes imposed by the International Monetary Fund in the past, and how it affected the implementation of the International Covenant.  Whatpercentage of the gross domestic product did Mali spend to meet the terms of the provisions the Covenant, especially in relation to its articles 12 to 15 on the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, education including free and compulsory primary education, and the enjoyment of the benefits of scientific progress and the participation in cultural life?

Another Expert noted the great efforts made by Mali to secure its territory, noting that without security, any development was impossible.  The Expert also asked about the expected impact ondevelopment policies of the recent re-election of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, whether a new strategy would be put in place for the development of the country, or the existing development plans would simply be continued.

The delegation was asked to provide further details on what Mali intended to do tostrengthen security in those areas where violence was most acute, and to explain the applicability of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in the law, especially on the cause and nature of the gaps in its implementation.  

Thenational human rights institution did not comply with the Paris Principles due to the lack of independence from the public authorities.  The delegation was asked to explain its independence, financing and the appointment of members, and to provide details on the law on the protection of human rights defenders, particularly whether it had been enacted as it seemed that further enabling laws were needed.

Gender equality between men and women was discussed, and Experts asked for details of measures that ensured gender equality was implemented, in particular widening the access of women to land.  The issue ofregional inequality was raised, especially in terms of poverty and maternal mortality in urban and rural areas.  Questions were asked about what measures were being taken across the country to ensure equal enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, including through fightingcorruption among civil servants.  The legal framework for combatting corruption did not seem to be sufficiently robust, while the protection of whistleblowers was considered weak.

Experts also asked about whether Mali had a generalanti-discrimination law, and in addition, it was noted that although the Optional Protocol on individual communications had been signed in 2009, the Committee had yet to receive an update on the status of its ratification.

Responses by the Delegation

Responding to the questions raised, the delegation stated it would convey in writing further information on thepercentage of the gross domestic product spent on the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to ensure precision.  They also clarified that thedevelopment plans presented during this dialogue were indeed from previous years, but their implementation would be stepped up under President Keita’s new mandate.  

In discussing the issue ofsecurity and the return of State authority, the delegation acknowledged that, while the implementation of the Algiers Peace and Reconciliation Agreement signed in 2015 had been delayed, some progress had been made recently with regard to disarmament, demobilization and reintegration.  Mixed patrols were being implemented in the North, and the restructuring of the army was ongoing.  Several programmes for economic reconstruction were in place in the north of Mali, all of which were aimed to re-establish security across the country.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was directly applicable by the Malian courts, and, according to the Constitution, prevailed over national laws.  The Judicial Training Institute had introduced courses on international legal instruments ratified by Mali to make them better known to judges.  In addition, national consultations were underway with a view to the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Covenant.

TheNational Human Rights Commission, created in 2016, enjoyed full independence, continued the delegation, stressing that was funded by the State which deposited the funds into a special trust account separate from the budget of the Ministry of Justice.  The members were put forward by civil society organizations, and selected by the bar, not the State, which was no longer represented in the Commission and had no authority over the use of its budget.  A standing committee was undertaking the review of the 2018 law onhuman rights defenders to verify its compliance with international instruments.

Malian women had “difficulties in accessing land”, the delegation acknowledged; even if there was no discrimination against women in the law, women did facediscrimination in access to land in practice, even though they played a significant role in the agricultural sector.  The Government would be taking steps to address the issue.

The delegation said that fragile security situation made it very difficult to effectively addressregional disparities, and the rural-urban divide.  

The fight againstcorruption was a priority of the Malian Government which had set up the Central Office for Combating Illicit Enrichment.  Civil servants now had to declare their assets, and account for their source and value.  Mali was receiving assistance from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, to ensure the fight against corruption was rigorous.

Questions by Committee Experts

In the second round of questions, Experts asked about Mali’s policies for addressingyouth unemployment, which was especially high amongst the well-educated youth.  Regional disparity was also acute in this regard, and information on up to date measures was requested, as data from the report dated back to 2009.

It was estimated that some 96 per cent of the country’s workers were in theinformal sector, an Expert remarked, asking the delegation to provide accurate data and statistics.  Whilst it was acknowledged that Mali faced challenges in implementing aminimum wage, it was also noted that it was not adequate for subsistence living.  Experts asked what Mali’s procedures were for updating the minimum wage, and what role civil society groups were expected to play in this?

The Experts discussed theprohibition of night work for women, and while acknowledging that some sectors - such as care work - had recently been excluded from this prohibition, wanted to know why this was not applied to all sectors.  There was also a discussion on the extent ofbonded labour across the country.  The Committee noted that only two officialtrade unions existed in the country, which seemed to have limited effect in defending workers’ rights.  What would Mali’s response be to a request to establish new trade unions?

Access to healthcare remained limited, partly because of rather confusing rules governing the healthcare coverage and complicated procedures for access to healthcare.  Any contributory system was likely to fail if people were too poor to pay even minimal fees to access healthcare services, Experts said, noting that 20 per cent in user fees for hospital care and 30 per cent for ambulatory care was too high for many.  The delegation was asked whether they agreed that such hurdles needed to be addressed.

The Experts noted with concern the proliferation ofprivate clinics, which, although closer to communities, were outside the scope of the universal health coverage that the government was devising, and urged Mali to give due consideration to the role of private clinics in the health care system of the country.

Responses by the Delegation

Responding to questions onyouth unemployment, a delegate acknowledged that youth and female unemployment was indeed a problem, and said that a programme had been set up to give practical assistance to those affected.  In addition, positive discrimination for young girls would increase their access to schools, and especially universities.

Decentralized territorial units were in place and it was expected that they were going to work to alleviateregional disparities.

Mali recognized that the high proportion of active workforce being ininformal sector was an issue of concern, and also recognized that education was a major hurdle preventing people from entering the formal economy.  Some of the steps to help the formalization of informal sector included providing access to micro-finance for small and medium sized business.

The delegation had taken note of the Committee’s comments on theprohibition of night-time work for women and would convey them to the Government.  Regardingbonded labour, wherever cases are reported, the authorities would intervene to stop this, said a delegate, noting that the fragile security situation did not allow for the intervention by authorities in areas where the State did not have full control over security.  The delegation was not aware on any restrictions on the right to strike.

Turning to the questions onsocial protection and social welfare system, the delegation affirmed that the Government had approved the creation of universal healthcare system and a healthcare system for agricultural and informal workers.  The corresponding laws would soon be prepared.

It was not envisaged to includeprivate clinics in the universal sickness benefit the Government was devising.  Having said that, and despite the modest resources available, the State was committed to extending the healthcare coverage to as much of the population as possible.

Questions by the Committee Experts

In the next cluster of questions, the Committee Experts asked howpolygamy was justified and what measures were being taken to combat the practice, and also asked how Sharia law was reconciled with the civil law.  The Committee was greatly concerned aboutharmful traditional practices, given that 20 percent of girls married before the age of 15 and 50 percent before the age of 18, while 83 percent of women aged 15-49 were victims of female genital mutilation.  Were there any court cases in which those crimes were prosecuted?

The Committed asked for clear measures taken by the State to address the issue ofchild labour, where it was estimated that 55 percent of children between 5-14 were in work.  The Committee asked for specific measures taken, rather than an explanation of rules and policies.

The Experts wanted to know whether the existing policies met the minimum standards forprotecting the population against ill health, and inquired about the extent of specific epidemics in the country.  the Committee asked whether the country had a policy against genetically modified food, or whether education campaigns on the issue were in place.  Similarly, questions were asked about what measures were in place to educate on the dangers of sugary drinks.  The delegation was asked to inform on tangible steps taken to address the issue of clean water and sanitation in rural areas, and whether Mali considered that the lack of social housing was a problem for the population.

The Expert asked what control the State had overmining companies and their social and environmental practices, noting that “it is not enough to only have this or that action plan” to solve the most worrying questions regarding the respect of fundamental rights, warned the Expert. Thirty-five years after the ratification of the Covenant, the Committee could hope for a less incomplete report, he said.

Mali was always one of the leaders on theright to food and yet, although it had a law protecting the sovereignty of food, it had not been mentioned in the report, Experts remarked with surprise, asking why Mali was still a food importing country.  A large proportion of the agricultural sector was small-scale farming, which was not well integrated into the food supply system, while larger economies were involved in food dumping policies, they remarked, asking whether during free trade agreement negotiations, a human rights assessment of its impact on farmers was undertaken.

The delegation was asked about the framework agricultural law which made some provisions for dealing with climatedisasters, and whether, in the event of a disaster, any provisions had been made for the State to step in and provide assistance to the affected population.

Onhealth, Experts then asked if any targeted interventions were planned to tackle neonatal mortality; education programs in place to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and so reduce the number of new infections; the support available for people with mental health issues; and steps taken to increase the number of health workers in rural areas.

Life expectancy varied greatly across the country, and some of the lowest life expectancy rates was in regions free of armed conflict, therefore what policies were being implemented to address the true causes.  Experts urged Mali to ensure thatfemale genital mutilation was included in the revision of the Criminal Code, and would be clearly prohibited.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation, responding to the question onpolygamy, said that the practice, a part of the custom in Mali, was not prohibited by the law.  Mali was a Muslim majority country in which polygamy was permitted by Sharia law, under certain conditions.  The delegation said it did not wish to enter into a debate on the tenants of the Koran, but they noted that whilst polygamy was permitted in Malian law, cases of polygamy were falling.  Furthermore, the law provided for a number of safeguards that ensured polygamous marriages were consensual: any couple could opt for a monogamous or polygamous union when contracting marriage; the consent of the wife was needed to change the union from monogamous to polygamous one, and notary had to be notified of this change; and the first wife in a polygamous marriage had to consent to her husband to marry the second wife.

The legalage of marriage was 18 for men and 16, the delegate said, acknowledging that this was not followed in practice.  It was noted that, in urban areas, customs were changing and there was a decline in the marriage of girls towards later marriages, a trend the Government supported.  

The delegate further stated that the Government was conscious not to simply legislate to outlawfemale genital mutilation, an act that could be seen as an attack on cultural norms, instead it preferred to pursue awareness raising campaigns, and work with religious leaders and civil society groups to bring about a change in this way.  That said, a review of the Criminal Code was underway, which would seek to criminalize all sexual violence, including female genital mutilation.

Sharia law did not have legal standing in Mali, and, although it had been temporarily applied during the period of disturbance, it was not applied across the country now, as the Malian State was republican and secular.

Mali was a poor country, where even the middle classes could be eligible forsocial housing, which meant that the demand was very high.  The Government was committed to providing adequate social housing, with plans to build 12,566 units in the coming period.

The nationalfood reserve stood at 500 tons at the moment, which could be used to respond to emergencies.  There was no policy to introduce genetically modified foods, the delegation said, noting that the Malian diet was healthy as most people consumed food which would be considered organic.  There was a programme to increase access toclean water in the villages through the drilling of wells capturing water sources.  Mali would respond in writing to questions regarding the establishment of a national fund to help farmers cope with disasters, on the impact assessments carried out in the context of free trade agreements, and on the issue of mental health provision.  

There was adequateaccess to health care in the country, and the coverage was good thanks to the existence of clinics throughout the country.  Malaria treatment, HIV/AIDS testing, anti-retroviral therapies, and Caesareans were free of charge.  Immunization and information campaigns were regularly launched to reduce maternal and infant mortality.  

Regarding theimbalance in health care provision between rural and urban areas, it was noted that Mali only had one medical school, and the limited number of doctors were often unwilling to relocate to rural areas.  The issue of disparities inlife expectancy between rural and urban centres was in large part due to disparities in economic development, however, since independence, life expectancy had risen from 40 to over 50 years.

Climate change was having an impact on Mali, especially in terms of desertification.  As pastures became scarce, pastoralists migrated to agricultural areas, aggravating already long-standing conflicts with farmers.  The rural exodus has worsened and more and more young people were trying to reach the developed countries.  Finding solutions to those problems was absolutely vital for a country like Mali.

In discussingfamily planning policies mostly targeting women, the delegation acknowledged that men should also use contraceptives, and as such, education campaigns had been implemented to raise awareness of this issue.

Questions by the Committee Experts

In the final round of comments and questions, Committee Experts asked about the right to education, and the growing trend towardsprivatization of education in Mali, wondering whether this process was delivering on the objectives of the International Covenant.

What measures had the Government taken to relocate school children whose education had been disrupted by the country’s conflict?  What was the system of oversight exercised on Koranic schools?

The Committee asked about the International Criminal Court case against Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, who had been convicted for thedestruction of cultural sites in Timbuktu, in particular the lessons learnt from this experience.  Had the Malian legal framework been amended to address similar crimes in the future, what sort of compensation was being given to victims, and what, if any, education programmes were being implemented as a result?

Responses by the Delegation

In response to questions asked abouteducation, the delegation said that Mali had made considerable progress.  For example, the number of preschool centres has increased from 1,356 to more than 2,000 in recent years, and there was an-almost parity between girls and boys in terms of primary school enrolment.  Education was one of the most important budget items, right in front of health, and before military spending, despite the country's security situation.  It was also reiterated that the Government was focusing on ensuring the safety of children, and as such school children in areas where violent conflict existed, these had been relocated to other parts of the country.

Regarding theprivatization of education, the Government recognized the merits of those private schools given the high demand for education.  The State did provide subsidies to some of these schools, in order for them to lower their tuition fees, which unfortunately was not done by everyone.  The Government would need to be more vigilant in this matter.  The Government had recognized and validated diplomas from madrasas (schools teaching in Arabic), but this was not yet the case forKoranic schools.  However, this was an ambition for the future.

The 10-year programme for education enabled children with disabilities to attend school in specialized institutes for children with visual or hearing disabilities, but only in the capital, the delegation said, noting that, with limited resources, there was limited capacity to deliver specialist education for children with disabilities.  As such, most children with disabilities attended mainstream schools.

Cultural diversity was fully recognized and supported through significant achievements in most cities across the country, whereas in the past, initiatives in this area had almost exclusively been in the capital.  The official language of the country was French, which was also the language of education, but people were free to use the vernacular languages in their regions.

The Malian judiciary could be inspired by the jurisprudence resulting from the conviction by the International Criminal Court of Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, the person responsible for the destruction of religious sites in Timbuktu.  This decision has been widely publicized in the country, and Mali had implemented the Rome Statute in national law.  The compensation fund of the International Criminal Court was supporting the city of Timbuktu to develop education programs.  

Concluding Remarks

MOHAMED EZZELDIN ABDEL-MONIEM,Committee Rapporteur for Mali, in his concluding statement, welcomed Mali’s determination to move forward, and stressed that the country had the resources to build a strong economy and make progress on fundamental rights.  In this, Mali also had the resources and help of the international community to do so, said the Rapporteur, noting that it was up to the country to shape its relationship with the Bretton Woods financial institutions.

MAMADOU HENRI KONATÉ,Permanent Representative of Mali to the United Nations Office at Geneva, concluded by reassuring the Committee that Mali would transmit all the Committee’s comments and recommendations to its Government and said that the personal engagement with the Committee was very useful.

MARIA VIRGINIA BRAS GOMES,Committee Chairperson, in her concluding remarks, reiterated the importance of the delegation’s presence in this review, stressing that a country review without a delegation present would had no meaning.  The Chair said that the Committee’s concluding observations would highlight three priority topics, and urged Mali to provide the follow-up on those in the next two years.

 __________

For use of the information media; not an official record