Justice from the ground up: Strengthening Mali's justice chain

29 Jun 2017

The 2012 crisis exposed Northern Mali to internal displacement of its population, conflict and security situations, and the absence of institutions. Since the peace accord in 2015, there have been progressive signs of stabilization including the uptake of judicial activities in the country.

Notably, there has been an increased demand for improved performance by justice institutions in response to an influx of large and complex cases emerging from the 2012 and 2013 internal conflicts. Despite efforts by the government to effectively respond to these needs, the judicial system remains bogged down by lack of resources, corruption, and inaccessibility for Malian citizens. 

Challenges notwithstanding, promising progress and innovative transitions are taking place in the Northern regions, specifically Mopti, Gao, Timbuktu and Ségou. IDLO, with support from the Government of the Netherlands, is implementing a multi-year program to strengthen locally-identified gaps in the justice system.

Roelof Haveman, First Secretary at the Embassy of the Netherlands to Mali, remarks that with this program, “the Netherlands through IDLO is […] showing that we can support also the criminal justice chain actors who stay there to do their work, despite insecurity. […] IDLO gained confidence among the Malian and international actors in the region as an important player that does not walk away from difficult situations.” 

The program, launched at the end of 2016 for a duration of 5 years, has piloted an innovative model, the Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA), which is based on promoting local solutions to local problems. This adaptive, iterative and flexible approach was uniquely designed to comprise “cadres de concertation”, or consultation frameworks, which seek to enable Malian stakeholders at the local, regional and national levels to take ownership over the program’s implementation and lead the institutional reform activities. 

Through the consultations, Malian justice actors convene once a month to discuss justice priorities, as well as strategies and activities needed to resolve problems. The interventions are guided exclusively by local input, and the participants - ranging from police officers, court administration, civil society members and correction officers - are tailored to the region’s needs.

In Ségou, where IDLO is facilitating activities, the consultation members identified training for judicial police and increased respect for human rights in penitentiary systems as their top priorities. But the strategies aren’t limited to the law or law enforcement in the strictest sense – the consultations also consider journalists and civil society members equal parts of the justice chain.

For example, in Ségou, participants noted that the media can effectively promote access to justice by communicating about the proper use of legal mechanisms. Through media dissemination, remote and out-of-reach populations can access the right information and be empowered to bring their cases to court.

While the issues brought forth in the consultations vary a great deal, the interventions are effective because they are determined by local sensibilities. “[The approach] is working very well,” says IDLO Field Program Manager, Jean Mutabesha. “These are their activities. They propose them. IDLO just brings expertise to realize them,” Mr. Mutabesha continued. 

The bottom-up consultations support capacity building for institutions, but issues surrounding marginalized groups, like protecting children’s rights and addressing sexual- and gender-based violence have also been raised based on feedback from the participating justice actors.

A major objective of the program is increased exchange with and collaboration between different groups that wouldn't necessarily overlap. “There is more collaboration [between actors] than before”, said Mr. Mutabesha. “Synergies are always possible,” including between supporting partners. The consultation groups between regions also exchange experiences and best practices so that lessons learned are taken into account and no knowledge is lost. With this success has come the possibility to expand consultations to the South.

Mr. Haveman adds that the innovative approach has seen a “change in mentality and behaviour of criminal justice chain actors, who work together and together take the responsibility for the well-functioning of the criminal justice chain. As a result of this, [there can be] a better functioning criminal justice chain in all its aspects.”

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