Protection of Victims and prosecution of traffickers: Justice served in Mali

Oumou Niaré is a Malian magistrate who, in her 14-year long career, always worked on cases related to trafficking in persons in a country largely affected by the issue. As a result of its geographical position as well as its porous borders and the socio-political situation in the region, Mali has become a main transit country for migrants coming from West Africa on the route to Europe, who often end up in the hands of traffickers involved in larger criminal networks.

UNODC met Mrs. Niaré in Mali in January 2019 after having heard about her career and strong impact on the ground. The meeting served as an opportunity to take stock of the activities and training workshops organized in Mali to support the fight against trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants and to bring to the fore this role model for women in the region to mark the International Women's Day.

When Mrs. Niaré began her career as a young magistrate in 2004, Mali did not have a specific law for trafficking offenses. This meant that when Oumou Niaré started her professional life cases of trafficking in persons were dismissed and traffickers could roam freely. In these challenging circumstances, she admitted that she was personally affected by her inability to help victims of trafficking in persons identified in Mali, including women and girls who had been trafficked from their country of origin to Mali. It was at this time that her fight for these girls became more than just her job but a personal cause to fight for justice.

Mrs. Niaré received her first UNODC training in 2012. The same year, the first specific law on trafficking in persons was adopted in Mali and she explained that "this is when I really started to deepen my knowledge on trafficking in persons." The series of UNODC trainings "gave me a lot of headway on other Malian magistrates regarding trafficking in persons, as I found myself equipped with the right tools and the right expertise to effectively fight these crimes" she added.

    

She explained that the trainings and this new law have brought about a decisive change in her career, both from a human and a judicial point of view. Indeed, "before, we [Malian magistrates] were only concerned by the persons committing the offenses, with little to no regard for the victims. The trainings invited us to change this perspective and to take into account the protection and the role of the victim and put it at the center of the legal debate."

To illustrate her remarks, she recounts a case that she oversaw in January 2019. It is a story of two young women (their anonymity is preserved for security reasons) from Nigeria, that passed through Benin, and eventually finished their travel in the region of Kayes, which is a mining zone area of Mali where forced prostitution is unfortunately a common phenomenon.

The two girls, one of whom was a minor, were sexually exploited near the mining camps. According to the information gathered by Mrs. Niaré, these two young women managed to flee the Kayes region to reach Bamako where they were placed in a protection center.

In January 2019, thanks to the support and assistance provided to the victims and the trust gained as a result, Mrs. Niaré was able to interview the girls and gather enough information to obtain an arrest warrant against two of the traffickers in the Kayes region who were exploiting a large number of women.

This was a double victory for Mrs. Niaré, who explains that not only were the victims sheltered from danger, but the perpetrators were also brought to justice. "Earlier I would not have been able to prosecute these crimes in my country," she said. She is also, proud to announce that her expertise serves as a regular relay for her colleagues in the criminal justice system in Mali, as many of them reach out to her for consultation and advice when dealing with human trafficking-related issues.

Mrs. Niaré concluded the interview by stating that it was thanks to the multiple training workshops offered by UNODC that these two girls were saved from the miserable treatment they had been subjected to for several months. She added that these small successful fights, through the indictment of the criminals responsible, give full meaning to her duty to her country.

UNODC activities organized in Mali under the framework of the Regional Strategy for Combating Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants 2015-2020 and the Regional Programme for West Africa (2016-2020), are implemented through the Sahel Programme and the PROMIS project and contribute to the achievements of the Sustainable Development Goals 5, 10 and 16.

For more information:

UNODC Encourages Women Empowerment in West Africa

UNODC Regional Strategy for Combating Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants 2015-2020

Global Report on Trafficking in Persons

UNODC marks the International Women's Day and takes stock of its Gender Strategy