The traditional Sharia judiciary system relies on judges’ authority in processing cases. Judges refer in their verdicts to fixed Islamic Sharia principals.
In August 2016, 25 years old “Mohammad Weld Ammar” was involved in the murder of his cousin, after a dispute over a camel. He tells us of his experience with the Sharia judge: “I did not mean to kill my cousin. It was a normal disagreement first, and I wanted to scare him off with a knife, but the knife ended up in his neck, and he was killed.”
Weld Ammar elaborates “After the incident, my father took me to Othman, the famous Sharia judge in Northern Timbuktu, most of the desert inhabitants seek him for conflict resolution.
He heard the narrative, and he ruled that I should pay blood money, which he estimated to be 20 she camels, to the family of the victim, after they agree and accept my apologies. Meanwhile, my uncle’s family agreed that I make the payment in instalments, and now I have to give 8 more she camels according to the agreed schedule.”
Weld Ammar does not hide the fact that he cannot afford the blood money estimate made by judge Othman, but he is happy with the verdict, as the alternative could have been execution; the same judge has ruled the execution of several people during the conflict Northern Mali had witnessed, after being pressured by Jihadi groups in the region at the time.
Akhmadwagh Wadoun, a man in his fifties, says he was captured by people of Tamasheq town, 30 kilometres north west of Gundam city, after being accused of theft. Wadoun says “after being captured, I was taken handcuffed to judge Othman, when we got there, he unshackled me, and made the hearings. He decided that I should be convicted, and that I should compensate my contenders with the cows and goats I stole”.
Judge Othman is one of the most famous traditional Sharia judges in the region, and he is accused by many of “dealing with fundamental Jihadi groups, and submitting to their demands”.
Judge Othman says about these accusations “many people accuse me of dealing with Jihadi groups, and that’s because I rule in accordance with God’s law and the prophet’s way, I do not deny that they have helped enforce verdicts I made while they had control over the region, but it is the same thing official authorities did before, and still do today”.
The judge sees his work as supportive of and complementary to the work of civil judiciary. He explained that some complicated cases are referred to the civil court in Timbuktu to be processed, especially those where disputing parties do not accept the traditional Sharia verdict.
Official Legal advisor and lawyer Bubakr Sisi clarified that “traditional judges have no authority to coerce disputing parties into accepting their verdicts. Also, no party can seek traditional judiciary, without agreement with the contending party, which necessitates an agreement between parties for this kind of judiciary to operate”.
Sisi confirmed that there are indeed traditional judges whom verdicts are recognised by Malian law, especially after the Algeria Track peace agreement was signed. Sisi explained that “some seek traditional judiciary, which transfers many cases to the civil judiciary, either due to the case complexity, or because one of the disputing parties does not agree to the verdict made by the traditional judge”.