The MERIT project is a multi-year project, spearheaded by ICCT and the United Nations Interregional Crime Research Institute (UNICRI) and funded by the Royal Danish Embassy in Bamako. This project is part of a broader effort to prevent and counter violent extremism in Mali, and aims to facilitate the rehabilitation and reintegration of released Violent Extremist Offenders (VEOs) and reduce the risk of radicalisation among Malian youth.
> The ICCT-UNICRI team visited Mali to continue implementation of the MERIT project. An Advanced Youth Media Literacy Training was conducted on 21 and 22 August in partnership with Tuwindi Foundation, a Malian NGO that supports economic development and civic engagement through the utilisation of communication and information technologies. Twenty seven youth participants from throughout Mali took part in the training, gaining vital skills on verifying media sources, critically thinking about how to engage with news, and the differences between traditional media outlets and popular social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter. The youth participants also participated in practical exercises to hone their newly acquired knowledge and skills, including developing a digital communication strategy on an issue relevant to young Malians. For more information about the youth training, see here.
ICCT-UNICRI also returned to the Maison Central d’Arret in Bamako to assess the impact of the Risk Assessment Training held in May 2019, as well as the implementation of the Risk Assessment Tool. The Tool is actively being used in both of the prisons trained in May, Bamako and Koulikoro, to assess new Violent Extremist detainees. Feedback from the trained staff was received to help improve and refine the tool, as well as to assess future needs of the prison system regarding Violent Extremist Offenders.
> ICCT is pleased to welcome Julie Coleman as the new Program Manager for the MERIT project. Together with the Senior Program Manager Liesbeth van der Heide, she will be responsible for the design, implementation and evaluation of the overall project. The team is currently preparing the next activity for the Youth Empowerment Module and will travel to Mali in August to organize a training session on designing and spreading messages using traditional and modern media channels. In the mean time, the youth group have submitted essays on alternative messaging, providing input on what they think the main message of youths can and should be vis-a-vis government, fellow youths and non-state actors including religious authorities and terrorist groups. The team thanks the youths for their submission and will use their input to tailor the upcoming workshop to the provided feedback.
> The ICCT-UNICRI team visited Mali to implement the second phase of the project. From 21-24 May 2019, ICCT and UNICRI organised a Risk Assessment Training of Trainers for prison staffs of Maison Central d’Arret and Koulikoro prison. Local NGO ThinkPeace Mali and MINUSMA’s Justice and Corrections Section also participated in the training. On Tuesday, the team visited the new prison in Kenieroba together with the Director of the National Prison Administration (DNAPES) Mr. Toukara and his team.
ICCT-UNICRI conducted a Youth Media Literacy Training on May 27th and 28th at the Maison de la Presse in Bamako, Mali. In partnership with Studio Tamani, they organised a two-day workshop on media literacy for 28 youth participants from all Malian regions. On the first day, the speaker for this training, journalist Ramata Diaourré, discussed the role of media with the youths, including definitions of media and the objective of communication. The youths discussed the theories on communication and exercised practical case studies on topics such as the difference between traditional and modern modes of communication, identifying trustworthy news sources, and risks involving the use of social media. For the second day, Studio Tamani prepared a program for the group that included a visit with the Tamani team, a visit to the main studios, following a reporter in small groups for an hour and listening to and discussing the news programs. In the plenary session, the youths were asked, building on the work from the day before, to create their own positive message with a fitting media strategy. > In February 2019, the project team implemented the Pilot Risk Assessment tool and held a kick-off meeting with the partners for the youth modules: International Alert, Think Peace Mali, SNV Netherlands Development Organisation and Conseil National de La Jeunesse.
> From 21 to 26 October 2018, ICCT and UNICRI visited Bamako on a joint MERIT mission to Mali to kick off the project and meet with (potential) project partners. After a visit to the donor of the MERIT project, the Royal Danish Embassy, the project team met with DNAPES and MINUSMA and paid a visit to Maison Central d’Arret to prepare the risk assessment training. For the part of the program focusing on youth, meetings were held with Imadel, Think Peace Mali, CNDH (see picture), FAMOC, SNV, Human Security Collective, Studio Tamani and International Alert. Finally, meetings with the broader network in Bamako were organized including meetings with the Ministry of Administration Reform and Transparency in Public Life, UNDSS, INL and the Dutch and French Embassies.
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Since the Tuareg rebellion in 2012, violence in Mali between the North and the South has resurged. Soon after the start of the rebellion, Islamist groups took over the rebellion from nationalist Tuareg groups, imposing Sharia law in the northern region. In March 2012, President Touré was deposed after a coup d’état by the military. In 2013, an international intervention was launched by French, UN and ECOWAS forces, which halted the Tuareg advance. Despite several peace accords, the fighting continues: attacks from terrorist groups are launched on civilians and (inter)national armed forces. The conflict has created a breeding ground for violent extremism and criminal activities, and has resulted in forms of collaboration between terrorist organisations and criminal groups. Local and regional terrorist organisations have engaged in various forms of illicit activities, especially in smuggling and drug trafficking, while criminal groups have been active alongside terror groups in the northern part of the country through trafficking of drugs, weapons and migrants to the Mediterranean.
As part of the implementation of the Rehabilitation & Reintegration programme, ICCT identified several areas of work to enhance efforts in preventing and countering violent extremism in Mali (Action Agenda). To do so, the MERIT project targets both the prison environment as well as communities outside prison to facilitate effective reintegration and to reduce the risk of radicalisation in the larger population, especially among youth.
Young people play a key role, as they represent a majority of the Malian population (almost 70% are 24 years or younger) and therefore the future of the country. Their engagement in promoting alternatives to violence is therefore crucial for any counter-terrorism initiative to succeed.
The MERIT project, which runs from August 2018 till October 2020, has two main objectives. The first objective is to improve Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Malian VEOs in and after prison. The second objective is to prevent Violent extremism outside the prison context, by promoting alternatives to violence. These objectives are further operationalized across several modules, that each have one of the two main objectives as point of focus. The first phase of the project will focus on Rehabilitation and Reintegration, while the following phases will focus on promoting alternatives to violence and youth engagement. The findings of the programme will be analysed in a research paper that will study the impact of terrorist groups on young people in Mali and the wider region.
ICCT is implementing the MERIT programme in close collaboration with the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Faith, the Malian National Prison Administration (DNAPES), United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and a number of local partners and implementers.
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