Mali’s current socio-political crisis which started in 2012 has resulted in scores of human rights abuses including arbitrary arrests and detentions, extrajudicial executions, kidnappings, crimes against humanity and war crimes including sexual violence. As part of the peace accord signed in 2015 by the rebel forces and the Malian government, Mali created the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (Commission Vérité Justice et Réconciliation – CVJR). The CVJR’s mission is “to contribute to the establishment of lasting peace through the search for truth, reconciliation and the consolidation of national unity and democratic values.” During a recent press conference, the commission highlighted some of its key achievements since it commenced operations in 2017. They include organizing four public hearings during which several victims across the country testified on the past and continuing harm suffered during the crisis, and the creation of a database of more than 19,400 victims’ statements, with half of these presented by female victims.
Victims are the cornerstone of the CVJR’s mission and serve as a continuous reminder of the vision of the African Union Transitional Justice Policy (AUTJP) which emphasizes the centrality of effective victim participation in ensuring successful transitional justice processes. Similarly, in his first report, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence acknowledges that the meaningful participation of victims is imperative for the goals of transitional justice to be achieved. From analyzing the experiences in different post-conflict contexts across the globe where transitional justice processes have been implemented, genuine victim participation has ensured that victims’ interests and demands are central to driving the transitional justice agenda. It also contributes to restoring the dignity of victims and supports efforts toward victim-driven demands for truth, justice, reparations, and the non-recurrence of violence. Truth-seeking processes, have offered victims the platform to tell their stories, identify the perpetrators of the crimes they have suffered and make their demands for justice. Additionally, reparation programs have largely proven effective in contexts where they are designed in open and genuine consultation with victims and broader civil society who work closely with these victim communities.
These approaches are in line with the Africa Transitional Justice Legacy Fund’s (ATJLF) vision of promoting the agency of victims and survivors of heinous crimes in transitional justices in all its countries of operation across West Africa. In Mali, the ATJLF has prioritized supporting projects which ensure that more victims have a better understanding of the CVJR’s mandate and proactively engage and participate in its ongoing proceedings and inquiries. This victim-centered approach is critical given the fact that according to the country’s reparations policy, only victims who have made statements before the CVJR can make reparation claims.
Following a call for proposals in 2020, ATJLF supported five initiatives in Mali that collectively helped to address the core issues around victims’ and survivors’ marginalization and neglect in the ongoing transitional justice processes in the country. Specifically, ATJLF funded a project by the Association Femmes Victimes de Violence dans les Régions Nord du Mali (AFVVRNM), a women victim-led organization based in Bamako that primarily serves internally displaced women residing in camps in the outskirts of Bamako. With ATJLF’s support, AFVVRNM organized Training of Trainers (ToT) sessions for selected members of their association on the Mali reparations policy and the CVJR’s mandate. The trainees in turn organized information sessions in ten (10) IDP camps in and around Bamako district. As a result of this intervention, 200 female victims agreed to submit their statements before the CVJR. ATJLF also supported Tribune Jeunes pour le Droit au Mali (TRIJEUD-MALI), an association of young lawyers that promotes the protection of human rights. The group reached close to 1,500 victims in 2020 during the organization’s public education campaigns on the ongoing transitional justice processes in the country. TRIJEUD facilitated the travel of more than 1,000 indigent victims in Bamako, Gao and Mopti to the CVJR’s offices for the purpose of making their statements.
In March 2022, the ATJLF announced the award of another set of grants to support the important work of Malian civil society organizations with victim communities. In this programming cycle, ATJLF continues to fund initiatives that prioritize the enhancement of victims’ knowledge on the CVJR’s mandate and facilitate victims’ access to the institution’s offices across the country for the purpose of delivering their statements. Following the extension of the CVJR’s mandate to December 2022, ATJLF is supporting AFVVRNM to expand the scope of its work to female IDPs in ten (10) additional camps in Mopti in Central Mali and in addition, provide psychosocial support to the victims. Also, with the recent funding from ATJLF, TRIJEUD will facilitate access to the CVJR’s offices for an additional 1,200 victims in Mopti and Bamako by the end of 2022. Réseau des Jeunes pour une Justice Transitionnelle Inclusive au Mali (R2JTIM), based in Timbuktu, will facilitate victims’ access to the CVJR by either transporting them to the Commission’s regional office or bringing the CVJR’s mobile teams closer to the people in Timbuktu. The Association Noyau Dur pour la promotion de la Justice Transitionnelle au Mali (AND-Mali’s) project will support victims’ consultations and gathering of their opinions on how they would like to be involved and represented in the mechanisms that will be set up after the CVJR’s mandate ends in December 2022. The CVJR’s current proposal includes the set-up of two institutions to replace it. One of these institutions will handle the administration of reparations and continue statement taking given the active conflict, and the other will serve as a center for memory, unity, and peace. AND-Mali’s project is therefore crucial because it will advocate for the active involvement of victims in these new institutions based on the victims’ own recommendations. If successful, this will ensure that victims continue to play a role in the transitional justice process beyond the CVJR’s mandate.
Although victims’ participation has tremendous benefits, it is important to point out that there are risks attached to their participation in such processes including ‘secondary victimization’, possible revenge from perpetrators, or fear of stigmatization by their communities et cetera. Bearing these in mind, ATJLF’s partners are ensuring that any victim’s decision to make a statement before the CVJR is informed and voluntary; and that provisions are made for psychosocial support. In this regard, with ATJLF’s support Coalition Malienne des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (COMADDH) produced a guide on protection techniques for victims and advocated for its adoption by the government to facilitate victims’ participation in the transitional justice process.
ATJLF continues to proactively support victim participation and engagement in the Malian transitional justice process because it is directly linked to their ability to make reparation claims once the country enacts and implements its reparation policy. Strengthening victims’ agency therefore remains central to ensuring the success of Mali’s transitional justice process.
Author: Anael Kingue
Anael Kingue is the Grants and Program Officer at ATJLF