All respondents were asked what they would do about the customary justice systems in Mali if they had no limits. A popular recommendation was for customary leaders to receive training, including of their own traditions, conflict resolution methods, human rights, technology, war crimes and science. Many recommended that judgements and practices be recorded and that the state put enforcement power behind the rulings of customary leaders. Interviewees also suggested that customary systems could be strengthened by monitoring decisions, creating a security institution to work with customary justice actors, regulating who is allowed to become a customary justice leader and reinvigorating the practice of maintaining a register of ‘notable’ personalities.
Many were concerned about breaking down customary systems without a solid mechanism to replace them, suggested that customary law be taught in Malian law schools to ensure that lawyers are aware of how they work and encouraged use of the media to inform people about these mechanisms. Additional calls were to halt efforts to assimilate to the legal systems of other cultures and to instead emphasize learning and relying on local customary practices, including by studying the evolution of customary justice systems, their effectiveness and the values they are based on.
Further recommendations were to formalise and motivate customary leaders by providing them a salary and an office. Some customary leaders also expressed a desire for technical support and training by formal justice system officials. Respondents suggested efforts to find a middle ground by creating conflict resolution systems that straddle customary and formal justice, acknowledging that this effort would take considerable effort and involve numerous meetings and discussion. In terms of existing links between the formal system’s judges and assessors from the customary justice systems, some suggested ensuring that the judges consult and listen to the assessors respectfully rather than disregarding them or using them opportunistically to back up corrupt decisions. Many respondents wanted clarification on what issues should be handled by customary versus formal justice leaders, and for it to be mandatory for the state officials to send the customary justice systems anything designated for them.
In regards to women, calls were made to ensure that customary systems treat men and women equally. Many also recommended that women be included at the leadership level of customary justice systems and that the formal justice system use women as assessors.
More specific recommendations include having local members of Réseau des Communicateurs Traditionnels (RECOTRADE) become involved in resolving the crimes related to the crisis rather than only members from Bamako. Some also would like to bring back practices such as banishment (for those who disregard customary justice systems and their rulings) and the ‘fire test’ (used in Douentza — which entails suspects walking across fire barefoot and being declared guilty if their feet are swollen the next day). Others would like the imams and the general population to be better educated in Islam, because it is believed that applying it to all cases would prevent problems. A respondent from Ansongo recommended diffusing conflicts by giving victims two sheep as long as emotions ran high. Lastly, one respondent explained that in Mopti dangerous conflicts related to inheritances at the village level are emerging because customary justice leaders do not have a tradition that addresses the distribution of property to those who have left and later returned. It would be helpful, the respondent observed, to support the customary leaders there in finding a suitable way to address the issue.