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Nothing but the truth - supporting human rights in Mali

28.02.2019 - Article

The Federal Foreign Office is supporting a truth commission investigating human rights violations in the crisis state of Mali, writes the German Foreign Office.

Commissioners of the Malian Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission discuss strategies for their future work at an internal meeting
Commissioners of the Malian Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission discuss strategies for their future work at an internal meeting © GIZ

Khadidja Maiga (not real name) isn’t asking all that much. She just wants to be listened to and for the state to acknowledge the suffering that she has been through. When the Islamist terrorist militias entered her village, she fled in panic along with her husband, who was a government official, and her twin boys. They had run down a hill and thought they had escaped when the armed men started shooting at the family from behind. Her husband and one of her children died. Seriously wounded, Khadidja Maiga dragged herself with her surviving son to the next village. Later on, she fled the northeastern region of Gao to Bamako, the capital of Mali, where she still lives today as an internally displaced person.
 
Khadidja Maiga’s story is one of thousands of cases documented by the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission in Mali. The Commission is financed and supported by the German Development Agency GIZ with funds from the German Foreign Office – with training, advice and technical and logistical support. It is part of the peace treaty in the crisis state of Mali that the Malian Government signed with insurgent rebels and militias from northern Mali in 2015. Together with the Ministry of National Reconciliation, GIZ has set up a number of regional offices and trained staff members to document human rights violations.
Interviews are being conducted across the country. However, nobody knew whether the Commission would actually be able to help stabilise the country since, unlike in South Africa or Chile, for example, the conflict has still not been resolved. The question was whether a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission could manage to break the cycle of hatred and violence and create trust in the state.
 

A refugee child from northern Mali
A refugee child from northern Mali © www.picturedesk.com

“We’re also surprised by how well the Commission has been received and by the high level of credibility it enjoys,” says Anne-Katrin Niemeier, GIZ Project Manager in Mali. There have been calls even from people in the northern provinces of Ménaka and Kidal, which are currently grappling with unrest, for their own regional offices to be established. “Many say that this is the first time that they’ve actually been listened to by a state institution.”

The work of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission is supported by several dozen other stabilisation projects. These include, for example, the peace dialogues organised by GIZ, which bring together people who have had no contact with each other since the beginning of the most recent crisis in 2012. In order to show that rapprochement and reconciliation are worthwhile, the talks are accompanied by stabilisation measures, such as the reconstruction of a children’s basketball court destroyed by the Jihadists, in addition to the construction of a new road and repair work for a well. This often creates a positive dynamic that, while hoped for by the promoters, is not guaranteed under the prevailing conditions. 

Each individual peace dialogue is a small step in a large conflict, but without rapprochement between the people of the north and south, you can send as many MINUSMA soldiers to Mali as you like – waves of violence threaten to erupt time and again. In order to achieve lasting stability, the partners involved in the Algiers peace accord must urgently work on the causes. The German Foreign Office, with its Directorate-General for Crisis Prevention, Stabilisation, Post-Conflict Peacebuilding and Humanitarian Assistance, has supported reconciliation work in Mali with a total of around 22 million Euros since 2013. 

The fundamental problem in Mali is already several generations old. It is a classic conflict between herdsmen and farmers over land and water, which are scarce resources. In the north of the country live the traditionally nomadic desert tribes of the Tuareg and Fula, who have been Islamicised for a very long time and whose history and culture are strongly influenced by North Africa and the Arab culture. The south, by contrast, is dominated by the Bambara ethnic group, subsists on agriculture and, in cultural terms, belongs to sub-Saharan Africa. The majority of southern Malians converted to Islam only after colonisation by the French. 

Mali and the region
Mali and the region© Auswärtiges Amt

The peoples of the south make up the lion’s share of the Government and have neglected the north for decades. Ever since the establishment of the Malian state, there have been outbreaks of violence, involving serious human rights violations, even massacres. None of these issues has ever been addressed. This is why the current conflict is, among other things, about equality, participation and recognition. It is for this reason, too, that the mandate of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission is for a 60-year period as the suffering of the past must also be acknowledged and addressed.

Anger and frustration at the Government were part of the reason why the Tuareg wanted to secede from the rest of the country in 2012, with some of them becoming radicalised and allying themselves with Arab Jihadist groups seeking to use northern Mali as a safe haven. Before the French army’s intervention, the west African state was in danger of falling into the hands of international Jihadists and disintegrating. 

If the population is to withdraw its support from the extremist groups, then it has to be convinced that peace is worthwhile for the people. In order to stabilise the fragile situation, the German Foreign Office is funding the microprojects that accompany the peace dialogues – projects such as a grain silo for a multiethnic women’s cooperative in Gao, where Bundeswehr soldiers are also stationed. In the dialogue forums, people decide together what their community needs. “Projects like this are of more use for peace than a thousand speeches,” says Zahabi Ould Sidi Mohamed, Mali’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Reconciliation, who is now chairman of the disarmament commission.

The fact that it is possible to coexist peacefully even in a multiethnic state like Mali is demonstrated not least by the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission itself, in which all ethnic groups and religions, women and men, are represented. The Commission is recognised by all signatories to the peace treaty and held in high regard. “When you witness how committed these some 100 members are to holding discussions with one another, that they argue, but always focus on concrete issues, then it gives you goose bumps,” says GIZ Project Manager Niemeier.

Commissioner Ouleymatou Sow Dembele
Commissioner Ouleymatou Sow Dembele© GIZ

Mohamed believes that the historic example of Europe could serve as a source of inspiration. He says he often tells his compatriots that “if the Germans and French managed to become close partners and friends despite all the millions of dead in the two World Wars, then so can we.” However, this requires, first and foremost, honest efforts to come to terms with the past. “If we are to be reconciled, we need to know the truth,” emphasises the former Minister. The human rights violations documented by the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission are currently being systematically evaluated and a programme for reparations and compensation payments is to be decided upon. “There can be no lasting peace without finding out the truth – and no reconciliation without compensation,” says Ouleymatou Sow Dembele, a member of the Commission.

©German Foreign Office


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