Rokia Traoré: “My search for justice will continue”

10.05.2021, by Giacomo Luperini

The French-Malian singer and musician is involved in an international legal dispute after being accused of kidnapping her own daughter.

Rokia Traoré, a famous singer and refugee activist, has recently been at the center of a complex international legal dispute.

The French-Malian musician is currently living in her native country, still working despite the pandemic and her difficult personal circumstances. She has taken part in live-streamed festivals such as Musica dei cieli 2020 and Tiny Desk Meet Global Fest 2021, and is making tentative plans for several future engagements (including yet-to-be confirmed spring concerts in France and the U.K.).

In May 2020 the singer managed to return to Mali after a few hard days in the correctional facility of Fleury-Mérogis, near Paris. Her imprisonment, which due to the pandemic did not allow any visitors, was ended after she went on a long and debilitating hunger strike, and thanks to the support and numerous appeals from musicians all around the world.

It all started in 2018 when, after the breakup of her marriage to Belgian director Jan Goonsens, Rokia Traoré became involved in a long legal battle over the custody of their daughter, born in 2015. A painful separation like many others, which the couple fought over through their statements and lawyers until, in March 2019, Rokia accused Jan of sexually molesting their daughter, and decided to cut off all contact between them. After a number of appeals and requests to Belgian courts to grant shared custody to both parents, all of which Rokia rejected to protect her daughter, the singer was arrested at Paris Charles De Gaulle airport on her way from Belgium to Mali, and charged with “kidnapping and hostage-taking”.

This happened despite the fact that Traoré was carrying a Malian diplomatic passport, which should have granted her immunity but was not recognized as valid by the European authorities. Only the French court’s decision to release her on parole to allow for her extradition to Belgium allowed her to finally return home to Mali.

Today, Rokia lives in Bamako with her daughter. Her lawyer says that a Malian court has granted her full custody of the child, but this decision has not been accepted by its European counterparts.

The artist took to social media to vent against the Belgian justice system:

Up until May of 2019 I was sure that human justice existed to preserve a fundamental balance between our freedom and our safety. I was dismayed to find out that our rights carry a different weight depending on whether we are working or unemployed women, black or white, or whether we find ourselves in Africa or Europe.”

she continued:

I am not a criminal on the run, I never had any trouble with justice. I am an artist, and throughout my 23-year career I have done nothing but work, developing artistic and cultural projects that have earned me the support of my native country and several international awards, including two honors bestowed by the French State. I am shocked to find that a European arrest warrant could be used to blackmail me, holding my international career hostage in connection to a situation that should have been solved by the Malian justice system, as it concerned the safety and wellbeing of a child who is a Malian citizen and resident.”

Clearly we have no intention of taking sides in such a painful, delicate family matter, which we hope will soon be resolved to the satisfaction of all affected parties. This episode, meanwhile, raises doubts on whether Belgium – or Europe for that matter – are truly granting equal status to the diplomatic situation in Africa, an aspect on which we hope justice will be accomplished in full.





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