Cultural Destruction in Mali to Be Brought Before the International Criminal Court

For the First Time a Suspect Will Stand Trial for War Crimes, Relating to the Destruction of a Unesco World Heritage Site

June 08th, 2016

The Malian jihadist, Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, will be the first person to stand trial for the destruction of Unesco world heritage sites. The destruction took place in Timbuktu, Mali, in 2012. The trial, in front of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, will start on August 22nd 2016.

In March and April 2012, jihadist groups linked to al-Qaida took control of Northern Mali and organised a coup against President Amadou Toumani Touré. The jihadists have since been forced out of Mali following the French-led military intervention of January 2013. Unfortunately, the intervention occurred after the destruction of nine mausoleums and a part of Sidi Yahia, Timbuktu’s famous mosque, built in the 15th century. The mausoleums and the mosque were all Unesco world heritage sites.

The protection of global cultural heritage is one of the main activities of Unesco. In order to enforce the protection of cultural sites, Unesco approved the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict in 1954. The Rome Statute created the International Criminal Court, with article 8 giving a definition of what defines war crimes.

Ahmed al-Faqi al-Mahdi, better known as Abou Tourab, is accused of having played a central and decisive role in the destruction of the cultural sites in Timbuktu. According to ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, al-Faqi al-Mahdi was at the head of the “moral brigade” of the jihadists and he personally supervised and organised the destruction of the mausoleums. He was arrested in Niger, which handed him over to the ICC in 2015.

Since their destruction in 2012, the mausoleums have been rebuilt and Irina Bokova, Director of Unesco, visited Timbuktu in July 2015 to mark the event.

It is the first time that the International Criminal Court will pursue a case related to the destruction of cultural sites. The Prosecutor wants to seize this opportunity to highlight the necessity to protect cultural sites and to punish those who destroy them: “Attacks against cultural property are a constant. Sadly, there are too many examples as recent acts of destruction in the cities of Aleppo and Palmyra in Syria demonstrate”.

This constitutes a major step forward for the judicial protection of global cultural heritage. However, only the destruction of cultural sites will be dealt with by the ICC during the trial in August. The victims and their families would no doubt also wish include other atrocities committed by the jihadists when they were controlling Northern Mali.


Cultural Diplomacy News
Gaspard Fontaine, CD News