Conflict and Fragility


Supporting justice and the rule of law in Mali

20 Oct 2014 - 15:37
Source: Flickr / UN Mission in Mali

A widespread belief prevails that a lack of access and poor quality of justice in Mali contributed to the outbreak of the 2012 conflict and continues to create an environment conducive to extremism and organized crime. If true, strengthening the state of justice sector is a key priority. But is it?

Effective dispute settlement mechanisms contribute to keeping the peace because they can resolve grievances in a manner that is perceived as fair and sufficiently fast to prevent them from festering and taking justice in one´s own hands. In most crisis states customary legal systems do much of the work in this regard, while their state counterparts do not reach much beyond the main urban centers. While customary systems often reflect customs and hierarchies that disadvantage socially marginal groups, state systems tend to be inaccessible, corrupt and politicized. Both often contravene international notions of human rights.  

Conversely, ineffective dispute settlement mechanisms can lead to the collectivization of shared, individual grievances over time (e.g. water and land disputes), which can ultimately lead to political mobilization for violence as an alternative way to resolve unsettled disputes. Yemen provides a good current example of this logic at play (deeper analysis here). Yet, the dynamics through which injustice can lead to violence are highly context-specific.

This area of research under the Sahel programme of Clingendael´s Conflict Research Unit inquires how the state of justice in Mali contributed to the 2012 crisis and how it influences the prospects of future violence.  It looks in particular at the following interrelated questions:

•    What have been the main factors influencing the accessibility and quality of customary and state-provided justice over the two decades leading to the 2012 crisis?

•    Focusing on the years around 2012, to what extent did and does the resulting ‘justice situation’ influence the occurrence of violence in Mali?

    What are suitable interventions to improve the current state of justice (legitimacy, accessibility, effectiveness etc.) with a view to reducing the likelihood of the recurrence of violence? For example, will increased access to justice help solve existing conflicts?


This area of research features the following publications


Sergei Boeke discusses the fluid nature of jihadist groups (2 February, 2015)


Au-delá de la dichotomie: accepter le pluralisme juridique au Mali et en réconcilier les composantes (Novembre 2015)

Beyond dichotomy: recognising and reconciling legal pluralism in Mali (October 2015)

Azawad and the rights of passage (12 January, 2015)

Crime after Jihad: illicit business in post-conflict Mali (25 November, 2013)