Willem van Nieuwkerk
Director at Center for International Legal Cooperation
At the invitation of the Malian Ministry of Justice, CILC and the NHC (Netherlands Helsinki Committee) visited Mali for the duration of two weeks as part of the first stage of a study on the nation’s criminal justice system. The study is a cooperative effort by the Malian Ministry of Justice, the Netherlands Embassy in Mali, CILC, and the NHC, and will make use of Malian consultants as well as a small team of international experts.
The study on the reinforcement of the criminal justice system of Mali (in French: Études sur le renforcement de la justice pénale au Mali) was initiated by the Malian Ministry of Justice in order to address the state of the nation’s criminal justice system after a turbulent period in which Mali witnessed a coup d’état and an insurrection in the north of the country. A subsequent ten month conflict between state forces, separatists, and Islamists further contributed to instability and insecurity throughout the West-Afrian nation. The country now finds itself in a transitional period and the rebuilding and reinforcing of the criminal justice system is a crucial step towards establishing the rule of law and addressing crimes committed during the conflict.
CILC was approached by the Malian Ministry of Justice and the Netherlands Embassy in Bamako to organise and carry out the study due to the extensive experience it has accrued with international projects dealing with judicial reform. The study is comprised of two individual parts that each assess a pressing issue. The first seeks to assess the capacity of personnel related to the criminal justice system and will therefore look specifically at the day-to-day functioning of the criminal justice chain. Emphasis will be placed on how the chain functions in practice rather than on paper. The second assessment will examine the conditions of support for the prosecution authority, particularly for those actors in the criminal justice chain that seek to investigate and bring to justice perpetrators of crimes committed during the recent conflict. In order to carry out the study, CILC has enlisted three international experts who will work closely together with local Malian consultants. Mr Jan de Vries, Deputy-Director of the NHC was assigned to lead the team of experts. Mr De Vries will also be coordinating the study in conjunction with CILC. The study will be carried out in seven stages and ultimately result in a Plan of Action to be adopted by the Malian Ministry of Justice.
According to Mr De Vries, it is “imperative that the study acknowledges and incorporates the perception of ordinary citizens.” The Malian criminal justice system, “is suffering from a lack of confidence and a breakdown in trust”, issues that Mr De Vries say need to be addressed. During their stay, CILC and the NHC met with their Malian consultants and made preparations for the coming stages. This included a stocktaking of the situation and investigating the needs of the local populace in order to adequately determine what action is necessary to enhance the working of the criminal justice system and increase the trust and confidence of the population.
CILC Director Mr Willem van Nieuwkerk stated that he hoped the study would contribute to future stability in the country and help strengthen justice in the long run.