ICC hears first case on cultural crimes

The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague opened the confirmation of charges against Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi for destruction of religious and cultural heritage on March 1. The charges levied against al-Faqi, an alleged member of Islamic terrorist group, Ansar Dine, and an important figure in the jihadist occupation of Timbuktu, signal what appears to be the first-ever war crimes trial addressing attacks against cultural heritage. Specifically, the charges state that al-Faqi is criminally responsible, either himself or through his assistance, for "intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to religion and/or historical monuments in Timbuktu," including nine mausoleums and the Sidi Yahia Mosque

According to Regulation 53 of the Court, the Pre-Trial Chamber must deliver its decision to either confirm or deny that the prosecutor has established a reasonable grounds to prosecute al-Faqi within 60 days of the end of the confirmation hearing.

Al Faqi was turned over to the ICC by Nigerian authorities in September pursuant to an arrest warrant issued earlier that month. In 2012 the investigation was encouraged by the Malian Justice Minister Malick Couliably after the ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda stated that the attacks in Mali would be considered war crimes. Jihadists were in control of Timbuktu from June 2012 to January 2013.

From Jurist, March 2. Used with permission.

  1. Guilty plea in Timbuktu cultural crimes case

    Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi pleaded guilty to destroying shrines and damaging a mosque in the ancient city of Timbuktu, in the ICC's first case concerning cultural crimes. Mahdi, a teacher who was born in or around 1975 near Timbuktu and who studied Islamic law in a Saudi-sponsored school in Libya, was also accused of leading a self-appointed police organization that meted out punishments like public floggings for minor infractions.

    "It is with deep regret and great pain that I had to enter a guilty plea on all the charges brought against me," Mahdi told the court. Imploring forgiveness, including from the people of Timbuktu, he said, "I would like them to look at me like a son that has lost his way, and to accept my regrets."

    Mahdi added that he was "influenced by a group of deviant people from al-Qaeda and Ansar Dine," and said that he hoped his punishment would "serve as a purging of the evil spirits I got involved with."

    He faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison, but prosecutors agreed to request a sentence of nine to 11 years as part of a plea agreement. (NYT, Aug. 22)