Mali: Mission on Prisons and Conditions of Detention, 1998


"I visited prisons in Mali, with the consent of her government, from 20 - 30 August 1997. That visit took me to prisons and detention centres in Bamako, Tombouctou, Goundam, Mopti, Baguineda, and Kati. A report on the visit including the comments of the government of Mali was published in 1998, and distributed widely.

Recommendations form an important part of the report. It is, therefore, to the credit of the government of Mali (hereafter referred to as 'the government') that its comments incorporated its implementation of some of the recommendations in the report. Nevertheless the impact of the work of a Special Rapporteur is likely to be greater if he or she is able to return to the site of an earlier visit to find out what changes, if any, have taken place between the two visits. The inclusion of new places, in my case prisons, will reveal the extent of any beneficial impact of the earlier visit on the subject of inquiry. These thoughts and beliefs guided my return visit to Mali. In the event, I settled on prisons and detention centres in Bamako, Kati, Bolle, Koulikoro, Mopti and Kayes.

Valuable as a return visit may be, it was even delightful to have the government throw open the doors of its prisons to me on two occasions within fifteen months. Far from it being a discouragement, a postponement of the visit for a few months heightened my interest, and indicated the seriousness with which the government took prison reforms."


A. To the Government of Mali:

  1. Long remand continues to be a problem...
  2. Although overcrowding was generally less serious than on the previous occasion, perceptive prison officials attributed it mainly to the harvest season having attracted many hands onto farms. Overcrowding should therefore also continue to engage the attention of government. If the issue of remand is tackled effectively, overcrowding is likely to cease to be a problem. Thus the solution of the remand problem holds the key to the solution of other urgent matters. Separation by categories, for instance remand prisoners from convicts, will be easier to observe than the present practice of mixing the two.
  3. Separation of civil servants from others seems to be too entrenched to be disturbed. That the other inmates did not raise any objection to such separation may seem to support the retention of the present categorisation. But it is still worrying for the concept of equal treatment. Nevertheless since the civil servants quarters are invariably far cleaner and spacious they should serve as models to which the other quarters should be raised.
  4. The harsh conditions of overcrowding may partly be eased by allowing limited numbers of prisoners out of the cells at different times.
  5. The Registrars of Kati and Souba prisons should ensure that the rails made on the veranda and at the entrance respectively serve their purpose. The doors of the cells should be kept open during the greater part of the day to allow in fresh air.
  6. Equal treatment of prisoners should be aimed at and achieved. This is particularly so in the area of food. Some prisons like Bamako Central provide meals three times a day while others like Mopti serve meals twice a day with a third category once a day. Admittedly, the last group stated that a double portion was cooked once. Ways and means should be explored to see how the quality of food can be improved: provision of sauce, in the case of Mopti for instance, will go some way towards achieving this end.
  7. As in the case of Mopti, the Special Rapporteur took note of steps taken towards the construction of a wall. This will enable the warders to let out the prisoners into the yard for longer hours, as obtains in Kayes and Koulikoro. A little more fresh air, especially for overcrowded prisons will answer the humane requirement of punishment. Some arrangement should be made for feeding detainees at police and gendarmerie cells, especially those who do not have relatives to bring them food. The problem of protection from mosquitoes of detainees in police and gendarmerie cells should be addressed.
  8. Medical Services: Provision of basic over-the-counter medicine which relieves pain or which is used in first aid treatment will contribute towards improvement in prison conditions. A few prisons, admittedly, are supplied with drugs from government sources. A more serious problem which can be solved reasonably well was raised at Kayes Prisons. When sick prisoners are taken to hospital, all others are attended to and the medical staff declare that they are exhausted when it comes to the turn of the prisoners. Considered as the dregs of society, prisoners are likely to be shunted aside or placed at the rear of a long queue waiting to see a physician; and the danger of their not being attended to because of the sheer volume of work is real. A solution may lie in having a specified hour or part of it reserved, by arrangement with the medical authorities, for consultation with medical officers.
  9. Corporal Punishment, Assault and Torture: It would appear that Police and Gendarme centres are more guilty of assault of inmates than the prison warders. Human rights education of the Police should continue and be intensified.
  10. Hygiene: Soap continues to be a very rare essential commodity. It is likely to be a costly item if supplied at the regularity needed for satisfactory hygiene, personal and environmental. But resort to traditional soap-making will reduce cost, make it available in sufficient quantity and teach a trade which may be pursued after release from prison. Additionally, scrubbing cells with the soap will help raise the level of cleanliness in areas of prison premises where this is required. Since some prisons were said to have workshops for soap-making, it is not likely to be too burdensome to transfer the technology to more prisons for this essential item to be within the reach of all prisoners. Relatedly, the traditional substitute for toilet roll may be resorted to.

B. Muslim Communities, Churches and Other Charitable Institutions:

The burden of nation-building cannot be borne by government alone. Religious and other civil organisations should take improvement in prison conditions seriously and contribute towards its realisation. Visiting prisoners is a responsibility enjoined by the originator of one well-known religion which has adherents in Mali. Indeed it is likely to be a duty required of adherents of all religions.

  1. The above groups should, therefore, endeavour to visit prisoners and contribute towards the supply of their needs, especially those who do not have relatives in the areas of their imprisonment. Envelopes and writing material required for correspondence by needy prisoners, for instance, can be attended to by civil society.
  2. Fortunately the government of Mali is open enough to allow, as is evidenced by the improvement resulting from NGO intervention recounted at the meeting with NGOS, civil society access to the prisons. Advantage should be taken of this healthy environment to ensure that Mali maintains a humane prison regime.

C. To the International Community:

  1. A contribution towards the satisfaction of the medical needs (drugs, for instance) will be a useful contribution towards the efforts of the government of Mali in prison reforms.
  2. Equally, assistance in the establishment of workshops which will occupy prisoners and also teach them or improve the skills for use after discharge will be a worthwhile contribution. Kayes Prison has a compound where such assistance may begin.

D. To all:

  1. As the prison warders in Kayes and elsewhere observed, when able-bodied people are engaged in economic activity, as during the harvest season, criminality is low and so is consequently the prison population. All parties, government, civil society and the international community should consider the workshops idea outside prison an enterprise which will make for low criminality, improve the income-earning capacity of the youth and others with their raising of the standard of living in Mali, and contribute towards making them a reality.
  2. I stood on the banks of River Senegal at Kayes admiring not only nature but the profitable use to which men and women, old and young were putting the water: vegetable gardens along the river. For the narrow interests of prison reform and the greater interest of the entire country, intellectuals, economists, agriculturists and all should constantly be exploring how what nature has endowed Mali with can be utilised by Malians so that all are usefully occupied and kept away from the wrong side of the Law.