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Members of ODHP holding banner. With support from Diakonia, the organization ODHP heads the work with a new law to protect human rights defenders.

New law to protect Human rights defenders

Mali is a country ridden with conflict and human rights violations, but it is currently developing a new law for the promotion and protection of human rights defenders (HRD). If adopted, this law will significantly improve the conditions for HRDs working in the country. “The law states that all attacks committed against HRDs will be punished – this can have great implications for the work of HRDs in Mali,” says Aminata Mahamane.

5/31/2017

“The protection of human rights defenders is developing positively in Mali, a lot thanks to the support from Diakonia,” says Abdou Sekou Ouologuem.
Both Aminata and Abdou Sekou work for ODHP, one of Diakonia’s partner organisations in Mali (Observatoires des droits humains et de la paix – The Human Rights and Peace Observers).

Even more engaged

But it is not an easy road to travel. In February this year, an attempt was made to take Ibrahim Touré’s life. He managed to escape but his house burnt to the ground.
“He is now even more engaged and is planning to return to Gao soon,” says Abdou.
Ibrahim is the representative in Gao region for ODHP, one of the areas in Mali worst affected by the conflict, and he often spoke out against human rights violations committed by both the government and the armed groups.

 “Why not others, why us? It is because we defend human rights and make violations public,” says Abdou Sekou.
ODHP is currently working on getting a new law through parliament, a law that would protect human right defenders in Mali. Since the attack on their colleague Ibrahim Touré the work has become even more pressing. The situation in Mali is volatile at best, and especially in northern and central Mali armed groups, including Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, frequently launch attacks on government and international forces as well as on the population. A peace agreement was signed in 2015 but the implementation has stalled. In many areas schools and health centers do not function due to the insecurity.

Attack raised the idea

In 2014 Modisamba Touré went to Kidal in northern Mali to conduct research on the human rights situation. He wanted to document the numerous human rights violations that were taking place in Kidal, including rape and summary executions. But he was attacked and shot in the leg. He is now semi-paralysed and walks with the help of crutches.
“The attack raised the idea among the HRDs’ to propose a new law to protect human rights defenders, and together with other NGOs and the Ministry of Justice we started to develop the document,” says Aminata Mahamane, head of programmes at ODHP.
An American NGO, Freedom House, was working with ODHP in the initial phase, but they have since left Mali and ODHP is now leading this work with the support from Diakonia.

“In 2016 we did an advocacy campaign to explain what the law means and its importance, and it was received positively by the ministers,” says Aminata.
“The law was adopted by the Ministers on 4th of January 2017.”
The law now needs to be adopted by parliament and then by the President, and ODHP is continuing with its advocacy efforts. 
“We are also working with the media to raise awareness among the public to facilitate the law’s implementation once adopted,” she says

"There is a political will in Mali that has allowed for the law to be brought forward, and we will continue to ride on this to not only get the law adopted in parliament but also to ensure its implementation,” says Abdou Sekou.

ODHP has taken part in preparing the actual law together with the Ministry and networks of human rights defenders.
“Therefore we are happy with most of its contents”, says Abdou Sekou.

Obliged do protect people

The most difficult discussions have been on the definition of HRD, and the current version focuses on organizations.

“We would also like protection for individuals but understand that the law must have boundaries. The law will push us as HRDs to organise ourselves which is a good thing,” says Abdou Sekuo. “Once adopted the law will allow us access to areas to investigate and collect data on human rights violations especially in central Mali where people are very frustrated over the situation. The state will be obliged to protect us.”