Justice Needs and Satisfaction Survey in Mali: from Data to Action

“Normally it is us who judge. This time the citizens judged us.”

With those words the secretary-general of the ministry of justice of Mali closed an intensive two-day meeting about the draft overview report of HiiL’s latest Justice Needs and Satisfaction Survey. Almost the entire justice leadership of Mali was there: presidents of jurisdictions, ministry directorates, prosecutors, the médiateur du république, civil society leaders, and the bar association. The final report will be available by the end of September.

A rare sight: so many justice leaders listening to their people and trying their best to translate their voices into strategies. “Justice cannot be an abstraction”, said Minister Mohamed Aly Bathily of Justice and Human Rights, as he opened the meeting with Minister for Reconciliation M. Zahabi Ould Sidi Mohamed and President Nouhoum Tapily of the Supreme Court. This was not a ‘tick the box’ gathering. Discussions were engaging and frequently heated: on method, on substance, on what data meant, and on what to do with it. I tried picturing such a gathering in my own country – The Netherlands – but couldn’t. Mali is not only the first country in Africa to have done such an extensive justice perception survey amongst its citizens, it is probably the first country in the world whose justice leadership engages with those perceptions so widely.

The study had 8 400 respondents; around 1 000 in each region. All regions were covered except Kidal, where the state still lacks effective authority. The actual interviews were conducted by Malians: a team of courageous and highly committed young people recruited and managed by our highly impressive partner organisations in Mali – Deme So and Wildaf – and trained by us. They interviewed both men (57%) and women (43%) of various age groups (above 18), coming from different towns and villages, and with different educational backgrounds. The questions focused around three main issues: Firstly, people’s attitudes to reconciliation and transitional justice. Secondly, how many and what kind of justice problems people faced in the past 4 years. Lastly, the paths these people took to deal with those justice needs. In a previous blogMartin Gramatikov set out an innovation we introduced: collecting the data through tablets with GPS, allowing us to connect our justice data to a particular area.

The year 2012 saw a rebellion in the North of Mali led by Islamic extremists, accompanied by serious human rights violations and a coup d’état during which civilians and soldiers were killed. On reconciliation and transitional justice around these events, the survey tells us clearly that the first priority for the people of Mali is to know the truth. Runner up, very close, is to hold those responsible to account. There is limited support for a pardon, but this differs by region. Women are slightly more supportive of pardons as compared to men. Older people are also more receptive of forgiveness. A clear wish for victims’ compensation is expressed, which can take different forms: direct compensation, compensation through aid, access to schooling for children of victims, etc. The data also shows regional particularities that should be taken into account: on possible amnesty and signing agreements with the rebels, for example.

The people of Mali are confronted with between 1 and 2 serious justice problems every two years. Among the most frequent include land disputes, crime, and employment. The most frequent individual problems include theft, land use, access to education for children, disputes around irrigation, disagreements over the rights of passage and access to property, and land grabbing. Women have more justice problems related to family, crime, and money, whereas men have more problems related to land, housing, employment, and public services.

The family and immediate community is the most important source for information around the justice problems that the people of Mali face. The police and mayors are very important justice providers. Lawyers and paralegals are hardly ever available to provide legal information and advice. A sizeable portion of people (17%) did not do much about their justice problem because they felt that the other party was too powerful.

On resolution, the citizens of Mali indicate that they generally prefer to avoid the formal justice system. Or they simply have little access to judges, prosecutors and lawyers. In the words of former minister Mamadou Diakité, who moderated the meeting, going to the formal system is widely viewed as an ‘echec’. This can be considered an asset, we all agreed: there is obvious formidable capacity to deal with justice issues within families and communities. That capacity can be enhanced and developed, for example through smart legal information strategies. Resolution processes – village chiefs, griots, mayors, or judges – generally do not score well on ‘voice and neutrality’, ‘stress and emotion’, and ‘reparation of damages’. This points to concrete areas for strategies of improvement.

There are many challenges and needs for more justice. But the most important take away from our meeting was that Mali’s justice leaders listen to their people. Mali has taken an impressive step.

1“Normally it is us who judge. This time the citizens judged us.”