Hopes for justice in Mali after start of coup-leader’s trial

Hopes for justice in Mali after start of coup-leader’s trial©AFP
Amadou Haya Sanogo at his trial opening in Sikasso, November 30, 2016
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In Mali, civil society hopes the trial of the 2012 coup leader Amadou Haya Sanogo which opened on November 30 will pave the way for independent justice and an end to impunity. Sanogo and and 17 others are accused in connection with the massacre of 21 “Red Berets” who attempted a counter-coup after Sanogo seized power from President Amadou Toumani Touré in 2012. The trial is highly symbolic, even if it will not get properly under way until next year. 

At the time of the coup on March 22, 2012, Amadou Haya Sanogo had only the rank of Captain in an army where there were many more senior officers. After the coup, he took power at the head of a military junta. But not everyone in the army supported the coup. Members of the élite Red Berets force who were still loyal to Touré attempted a counter-coup in Kati and Bamako in May 2012. But they paid with their lives. Twenty-one of them were kidnapped and killed.  

Sanogo, who had meanwhile been promoted to General, was arrested on November 27, 2013, jailed in Bamako and then put under house arrest in a villa more than 100 kilometres south of the capital.

His long-awaited trial started in Sikasso on November 30, 2016, three years after his arrest. But the Assize Court had trouble getting into the substance of the case because of witnesses being absent and objections raised by the defence. One of these concerns a forensic report on the bones found in a mass grave in Diago in December 2013. After hearing the objections of several lawyers, the court on December 7 ordered a new forensic investigation and postponed the trial. It is expected to reopen in March 2017.  

Despite this bumpy start, human rights organizations have hailed the importance of the trial opening. For too long in Mali, men like Sanogo have been seen as untouchable and above the rule of law.

Amnesty International said it “welcomes the efforts the government is making towards restoring justice and rule of law, but more still needs to be done for broader accountability of all the grave human rights violations and crimes under international law committed by all sides to the 2012 conflict in Mali''. It also called for victims to receive reparations and guarantees of non-repetition.

Justice for the North

Noting the trial opening, International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said she encourages Mali “to continue its efforts to fight against impunity for serious crimes”. “In the spirit of complementarity, my Office is also ready to offer assistance in support of the efforts of the national judicial authorities, as required, within the parameters of its mandate to continue fostering genuine national proceedings for ICC crimes in Mali,” the Gambian Prosecutor continued.

Bensouda’s statement clearly alludes to the situation in Mali’s unstable north, where many victims are demanding justice for crimes committed by armed groups, Jihadists and members of the armed forces. According to the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), 220 people arrested in connection with the conflict in the north were freed as part of trust-building measures under the peace accord between the government and various armed groups. At least 46 of them are suspected perpetrators of crimes against humanity, war crimes or other serious human rights violations.

The ICC and FIDH are clearly calling on the Malian authorities to make fighting impunity a reality. FIDH suggests setting up within the Malian justice system a “special judicial unit” specialized in the most serious crimes.

Malians, who are already engaged in a difficult reconciliation process, are hoping the Sanogo trial will be just the start of fighting impunity through impartial and independent justice, whatever the nature of the crimes, or the identity of the suspects, the region or context in which they were committed.