Time suspended its course last week when the light was turned down in the Bamako conference room, during the fifth public hearing of victims’ testimonies before the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (CVJR).
A woman, fully veiled to preserve her anonymity, sat down on the deliberately darkened stage and began her chilling testimony in a thin voice: “I was raped by seven people, in front of my fifteen-year-old child”.
It was in 2012 in Gao (north), the first large city in the north to fall into the hands of independence rebels and jihadists then allied in the conquest of the territory. Ten years later, Gao was taken over but Mali is still in turmoil.
His speech, broadcast live by national television and on social networks, upset more than one in the room plunged into silence.
Abdoulaye Touré, a 32-year-old member of a local NGO, confided “not knowing what to say in the face of so many horrors”.
“I cried a lot, I had a lot of pain, I had pain hearing these housewives who have nothing, who have lived through ten years of suffering, and it is only today that we are able to listen to their voices,” said Fabiola Wizeye Ngeruka, an international gender specialist.
“All the victims said we want a peaceful Mali, really that’s all we can ask for: peace in Mali,” she continued.
The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission was created in 2015 when pro-independence insurgents in the north signed peace agreements with the government they had fought. This commission is part of a variety of devices supposed to help reconcile Malians, with relative effects. The jihadists continued to expand and the violence metastasized further south and into neighboring countries.
The Commission has heard from victims of crimes committed since independence in 1960. For the past two years, it has been organizing public hearings.
The contemporary history of Mali has been marked by coups, military dictatorships, Tuareg rebellions and since 2012 a spiral of violence of which jihadists affiliated with Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State organization are the main perpetrators, but not the only ones.
The first victims are civilians. A recent UN report is alarmed that recent months have been the deadliest for them in years.
The CVJR investigators, dispersed in all the cities, collected the testimonies of 28,877 victims.
“To each, before starting, we asked if she was ready for forgiveness and reconciliation. We were surprised, everyone said yes. But the question remains on the conditions of this forgiveness”, underlines Ousmane Oumarou Sidibé , president of the CVJR.
“Catharsis is a long-term job that should not be carried out by the CVJR alone”, considers Mr. Sidibé for whom the most important thing is “that everyone finds their place in the country!”
The Commission must serve as a basis for setting up other tools.
For example, the idea of financial reparations is being studied, said Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maïga as a prelude to the hearing.
The question of justice against the perpetrators of crimes also arises, as it has arisen for other commissions set up elsewhere in Africa. The commission “is not a court”, assures its president.
The commission is “a formidable tool which has done important work”, says Ibrahim Maïga, a researcher specializing in the Sahel at the International Crisis Group.
But “we have to see how to capitalize on this work, what role could play the structure that will take over from the CVJR”, he explains, in particular “in the perspective of the long-awaited dialogue with the jihadist groups”.
A certain number of actors believe peace is impossible without dialogue with the jihadists.