Reparations ordered in Timbuktu destruction case

Posted on: August 22, 2017 by

Last week, the International Criminal Court in the Hague pronounced on the amount in reparations to be paid in last year’s Al Mahdi case. And it was a hefty sum: €2.7 million has been levied against the defendant, Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, for his role in overseeing the destruction of ten cultural monuments in Timbuktu during the summer of 2012.

The destruction of one of the mausoleums in Timbuktu by Ansar Dine rebels during the summer of 2012 (image c/o BBC).

When Al Mahdi was charged with a war crime under Article 8 of the Rome Statute in September 2015, he became the first accused in the history of the International Criminal Court to be charged solely with cultural heritage destruction. His involvement with the rebel group Ansar Dine following the group’s takeover of northern Mali in early 2012, led to his appointment as the head of the Muslim morality brigade for Timbuktu and, in this capacity, he was ordered to destroy a number of mausoleums in the city that were seen by the leadership as sources of local superstition. He orchestrated and watched over the destruction of nine mausoleums, as well as the door to a mosque, undertaken by groups of between 30 and 50 rebel militants.

Article 8 of the Rome Statute includes the offence of intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to religion, as well as historic monuments, provided they are not military objectives (Article 8(2)(e)(iv)). This covers non-international armed conflicts like the one in Mali. It was also quite clear that these attacks were not excusable in any way as they did not relate to military objectives. Al Mahdi admitted guilt and cooperated with the prosecutors throughout the process. He was sentenced in September 2016 to nine years in prison.

And now the Court has decided upon the damages that will be payable to the victims of this heritage crime – which is now taken very seriously as a war crime as well. The submissions made earlier this year by the representative of the victims is very interesting as it details the statements made by local residents and groups on the emotional and cultural impact of such wanton destruction of important sites. Unfortunately much of the public document has been redacted.

And how is al Mahdi, by no accounts a rich man, going to foot the €2.7 million bill? The answer is he won’t. That amount is going to come from a Trust Fund for Victims established by the Court to aid victims of international crimes in situations like these. The Fund is supported by donors.