#GlobalJustice Weekly – Timbuktu destruction: Suspected Islamist pleads guilty to war crimes at ICC

Ahmad al-Mahdi pleads guilty to the destruction of religious and historical structures in Timbuktu, Mali. © ICC

Al-Mahdi pleads guilty and apologizes for destruction in Mali’s Timbuktu

The International Criminal Court (ICC) trial of Ahmad al-Mahdi for attacks on religious and historical structures during the 2012 occupation of Timbuktu opened today in The Hague. Al-Mahdi, a suspected Islamist, pleaded guilty to all charges and apologized for his alleged acts in the UNESCO World Heritage site – which judges underlined they still had to decide upon.

The groundbreaking trial marks a series of first for the ICC and has been broadly welcomed throughout the international community as a much needed step towards protecting humanity’s cultural heritage in times of conflict.

Some civil society groups however have called on the ICC prosecutor to also ensure accountability for cases of murder, rape and torture arising from the 2012 Timbuktu occupation.

The ICC Office of the Prosecutor will present the remainder of its case throughout the week-long trial. Judges will render a judgment at a later date. Both the prosecution and defense have agreed not to appeal any sentence ranging from nine to 11 years. A conviction would trigger victims’ reparations proceedings in the case.


“To destroy Timbuktu’s mausoleums is therefore to erase an element of collective identity built through the ages. It is to eradicate a civilization’s landmark. It is the destruction of the roots of an entire people, which irremediably affects its social attitudes, practices and structures,” said ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda at the trial-opening.

“As a Malian parliamentarian, I am glad to see that the abuses suffered by my people are seen as what they are, war crimes, and will not go unpunished. Violent extremists will not be stopped by violent retaliation but by holding them accountable for the atrocities they committed and by increased awareness and strengthening of the Rule of Law”, said Hon. Idrissa Sankaré, Malian Member of Parliament and PGA Member.

“The FIDH and its member organization in Mali, the AMDH, welcome this important and symbolic trial, which marks the first at the ICC in the situation of Mali. We, however, call on the Prosecutor to continue her investigation into all crimes perpetrated in the context of the conflict in Northern Mali, and in particular the crimes of rape, forced marriage, torture and other sexual violence,” said Bakary Camara, Vice Secretary-General of the Malian Association for Human Rights (AMDH)

“While this case breaks new ground for the ICC, we must not lose sight of the need to ensure accountability for other crimes under international law, including murder, rape and torture of civilians that have been committed in Mali since 2012,” said Erica Bussey, of Amnesty International.

Further reading

‘I am sorry’: Islamist apologises for destroying Timbuktu mausoleums, The Guardian


Historic Timbuktu war crime trial begins Description: cid:image035.png@01D16972.C0A17510, Al Jazeera

Mali militant pleads guilty to ordering 2012 Timbuktu attacks, asks for forgiveness in court,  AFP

´Un-Islamic´ cultural heritage in militants´ crosshairs,  AFP

Mali: Al Mahdi trial on destruction of cultural heritage opens at the ICC, FIDH

Q&A: The Al Mahdi case at the ICC, FIDH

ICC Timbuktu destruction case – all you need to know, Coalition for the ICC

10 cultural landmarks destroyed in conflict, Coalition for the ICC

The ICC’s role in prosecuting and deterring war crime attacks on cultural heritage, American Bar Association

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