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March 31, 2015

A Community Organizer Pursues Reconciliation on Local Terms

March 2015

“I lived it,” says Boureima Traoré of the crisis that engulfed his country from 2012–2013. The community organizer is from Tenenkou, Mopti Region, which was especially affected by the March 2012 seizure of Mali‘s northern regions by a coalition of nationalist and Islamist rebel groups. When the government retreated, the resulting security vacuum left Tenenkou’s citizenry vulnerable to attacks.

“There remains tangible mistrust between communities, even one or two years after the conflict.... Although Taureg returnees are tolerated—they are often important to a village’s commerce—they have not been forgiven.”

Boureima Traoré
Community Organizer, Tenenkou, Mali

In one case, 20 people traveling to a weekly market were attacked and, ultimately, found bound in a roadside grave. Documentation projects, including those conducted by the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) and its partners, have found more than six conflict-related murders in Mopti Region, and another 45 attacks on individuals’ person or property.

For the past three years, Boureima has worked to bridge the community divide that was created during the crisis. He describes how the conflict exacerbated long-standing tensions between sedentary farmers and nomadic Tuaregs. He says that many in Tenenkou blame the Tuaregs for the crisis because several rebel groups were Tuareg-affiliated; therefore, many Tuaregs have left Tenenkou amid fears of attacks.

Yet, Boureima was certain that his community was at its strongest when unified. He has worked with the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees and other groups to conduct reconciliation forums that explore how to facilitate the return of the displaced and how to protect Tuareg residents from reprisals.

“There remains tangible mistrust between communities, even one or two years after the conflict,” says Boureima. “Although Taureg returnees are tolerated—they are often important to a village’s commerce—they have not been forgiven.”

Boureima’s perspectives underscore the importance of transitional justice processes that pursue lasting peace. To this end, the Malian Government has created a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) to investigate human rights violations committed during the conflict and to nurture healing within divided communities. While many see the TJRC as positive, there are concerns that it will absorb resources without having impact in conflict-affected communities. Some are skeptical about prosecution efforts, which have been complicated by a still-tenuous security situation in northern Mali that has made  investigating crimes and protecting witnesses extremely difficult.

To promote the national reconciliation process, ABA ROLI has trained community organizers like Boureima to lead local transitional justice efforts in seven communities. By hosting dialogues to gather community input on key topics, the organizers are then able to promote local priorities at the national level.

Boureima has traveled to Mopti and Bamako to present his findings to key stakeholders, including the ABA ROLI-facilitated Synergy on Transitional Justice, a consortium of national civil society organizations. These sorts of conversations are critical for true reconciliation, Boureima says. He believes that if the TJRC “just turns up in our community, without appreciating our context,” it will be difficult to achieving meaningful change.

Boureima hopes that the TJRC and other reconciliation efforts will build upon existing local initiatives, such as Tenenkou’s forums. He also favors the integration of  traditional practices that would feature local religious leaders and traditional storytellers, or griots, preaching messages of forgiveness.

ABA ROLI is now working with the Synergy on Transitional Justice to integrate our network of organizers’ research into a single strategy. The proposal will include a victim-centric approach that reflects the views of people who, like Boureima, experienced Mali’s crisis first-hand.

To learn more about our work in Mali, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at [email protected].