Mali delegation taps Canadian expertise documenting human rights abuses

Putting the peace into Canada’s upcoming peacekeeping deployment is the subject of a series of meetings this week involving the head of Mali’s truth, justice and reconciliation commission and senior federal officials in Ottawa.

Peacekeeping mission in Mali is world's most dangerous with 169 fatalities so far

Officials from Mali's truth, justice and reconciliation commission are in Ottawa learning from Canadian officials how to preserve and protect witness statements required to document human rights abuses. Here Canadian soldiers conduct a practice medical evacuation in Wainwright, Alberta, Monday, as they prepare to deploy to Mali. (David Common/CBC)

Putting the peace into Canada's upcoming peacekeeping deployment is the subject of a series of meetings this week involving the head of Mali's truth, justice and reconciliation commission and senior federal officials in Ottawa.

Ousmane Sidibé and four other commissioners are in the middle of a 10-day official visit. They're looking to tap into Canadian expertise on the preservation and protection of witness statements and the archiving practices required to document grave human rights abuses.

The group met last week with Canada's National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba, which was set up to house all the documents and oral statements of residential school survivors.

"We thought it would be very useful for the two commissions to share their expertise, their knowledge in managing data and managing audiences and hearings," said Pascal Paradis, the general manager of Lawyers Without Borders Canada, who will accompany the delegation for meetings at Global Affairs Canada on Tuesday. "It might seem like a strange fit from the outside, but it's working quite well."

The Canadian military is preparing to deploy as many as six helicopters and 250 aircrew and troops to support the United Nations mission in Mali.

The west African country holds the distinction of being the most dangerous peacekeeping mission currently on the books, with 169 fatalities.

Soldiers load a 'patient' onto a helicopter during the practice exercise. (David Common/CBC)

It is often described as a country where there is little peace to keep, a place where extremists, including al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, dramatically ramped up attacks last year.

There was also increasing ethnic violence in the north and central parts of the country, which killed dozens and displaced thousands, according to Human Rights Watch.

A country in turmoil

To make matters worse, there have been reprisal attacks by vigilante groups, political turmoil with the resignation of the country's prime minister last year and brutal tactics by security forces.

"Government forces conducted counterterrorism operations that resulted in arbitrary arrests, summary executions, torture and ill-treatment," Human Rights Watch said in its recently released 2018 assessment.

"During 2017, soldiers allegedly killed and buried at least 15 suspects in common graves, while more than 25 were subjected to enforced disappearance. Dozens of other suspects were subjected to severe ill-treatment during interrogations.

Mali is the centrepiece in a network of illegal arms trade, drug dealings, that stretch as far as Cuba and Colombia- Pascal Paradis, Lawyers Without Borders Canada

"Numerous men and some children accused of crimes against the state and terrorist-related offences were detained by the national intelligence agency without respect for due process."

Peace, let alone reconciliation, seems to be quite distant, but Paradis said his organization, with Canadian government backing, is attempting to lay the legal and civil society groundwork for the eventual process.

A soldier keeps watch during the exercise. The peacekeeping mission in Mali is the world's most dangerous with 169 fatalities so far. (David Common/CBC)

Just over $22 million has been set aside in two projects, one of which is slated to last five years.

"These are very significant investments by Canada," said Paradis. "They're working on civil society, on public institutions, government relations."

Undefined benchmarks

Blue-helmeted peacekeepers may be the most visible, immediate sign, but Paradis insisted work is already underway "to help the country overcome its problems."

He said it cannot be understated that Mali and events in sub-Saharan Africa are crucial to global peace and security.

"Mali is the centrepiece in a network of illegal arms trade, drug dealings, that stretch as far as Cuba and Colombia," he said. "Dealing with Mali now is not just dealing with Mali. It's dealing with the whole region in the global peace and security context."

A helicopter hovers near the ground during the practice evacuation. (David Common/CBC)

Recently documents were tabled in Parliament that show the Liberal government has yet to define benchmarks for success for its mission in Mali.

"Specific success metrics for this mission will be developed as a result of further planning, discussions with the UN, partners and the host nation," Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan wrote.


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