Mali: Give Malians Say in Truth Commission

Without Wider Consultation, Commission Risks Being Ineffective
March 10, 2014
(Nairobi) – The Malian government should seek broad-based consultation to ensure a credible and independent truth commission to examine abuses since the country’s independence in 1960, Human Rights Watch said. Two executive orders – one decree and one ordinance – establishing the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission will be debated this week in Mali’s National Assembly.The decree and ordinanceplaces the proposed commission under the Ministry of National Reconciliation and Development of the North,which would select the commissioners, and does not require public consultation on the commission’s members, mandate, and powers. For the commission to be effective and considered legitimate, there should be a structured, consultative process with groups broadly representative of Malian society, Human Rights Watch said.

“The Malian people will greatly benefit from a truth-telling process to address the persistent violence, poverty, and conflict that has ravaged the lives and hopes of Malians for decades,” said Corinne Dufka,senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “However, for the process to be credible and effective, it needs participation and buy-in from a broad cross-section of society.”

An effective truth, justice, and reconciliation mechanism in Mali could have an important impact on the country’s future, Human Rights Watch said. First, it could illuminate underreported atrocities committed during past armed conflicts, notably those suffered by populations in the north. Second, it could explore the factors that gave rise to and prolonged Mali’s multi-faceted crises including state neglect, weak rule of law, poor governance, and endemic corruption. Third, it could explore the dynamics leading to communal and ethnic tensions that have worsened in recent years and could erupt again. Lastly, it could make recommendations aimed at preventing a repetition of past abuses and improving respect for human rights.

A reconciliation commission was first created in March 2013 by the then-interim government. But it was widely rejected by various Malian groups because of the lack of broader consultation on its membership and mandate. Many Malians wanted a commission that could also address impunity for abuses, including permitting the commission to recommend individuals for prosecution.

After assuming office in September 2013, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita pledged to create a commission that would address more than just the recent conflict and that incorporated justice as well as truth. The proposed commission has a mandate of three years, will cover the period from 1960 to 2013,and will be composed of 15 members and seven working groups.

In order to create a credible, independent, and effective commission, the National Assembly should propose measures to ensure:

    That the commission is independent from other branches of government. Placing the commission under the Ministry of National Reconciliation and Northern Development, makes it subject to political interference and impacts the perception of neutrality;
    A wide consultation process on mandate and membership involving activist and human rights groups, women’s groups, youth groups, political parties, labor unions, victims’ groups, the diaspora, religious denominations, security forces, and warring factions, among others;
    Clear, objective criteria for appointing commissioners, including their moral and professional record, impartiality, and commitment to international human rights standards;
    That all proposed commissioners are subject to public confirmation hearings;
    The implementation of regulations that clarify the commission’s mandate within a human rights framework;
    The implementation of regulations that provide for investigative powers including to subpoena witnesses, public hearings, and a final public report that makes recommendations for accountability, including reparations and cases to be criminally investigated, as well as for other institutional reforms; and
    That the commission is part of broader efforts toward truth-telling and accountability that include justice for serious crimes. While truth commissions can respond to victim and community needs, justice mechanisms are necessary to fully respond to grave human rights abuses.

“The National Assembly should ensure the proposed truth commission reflects all of Malian society, and not the perceived arm of special interests,” Dufka said. “The task at hand is too important to get wrong.”