ICC : Towards the first trial for crimes against humanity committed in northern Mali ?

08/07/2019
Press release
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Today marks the start of a week of hearings at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the case against Al Hassan, an alleged member of Ansar Eddine- a group associated with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Al Hassan served as de facto chief of the Islamic police in Timbuktu during the occupation of the city by Ansar Eddine and AQIM between April 2012 and January 2013. The charges against him include war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the group’s control over the region in that period. These hearings are taking place while impunity is enjoyed by the former Commissioner of the Islamic Police of Gao whom has been recently released in Mali without a legal basis. Our organizations, engaged in the documentation of crimes committed in Timbuktu and in litigation against Al Hassan and his group before Malian courts, believe there is sufficient evidence for the charges against Al Hassan at the ICC to be confirmed and for the trial to begin. This new judicial chapter may revive the ongoing investigations and prosecutions of alleged international crimes committed in Mali since 2012.

Bamako, The Hague, Paris : 8 July 2019. Today marks the start of a week of hearings at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the case against Al Hassan, an alleged member of Ansar Eddine- a group associated with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Al Hassan served as de facto chief of the Islamic police in Timbuktu during the occupation of the city by Ansar Eddine and AQIM between April 2012 and January 2013. The charges against him include war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the group’s control over the region in that period. These hearings are taking place while impunity is enjoyed by the former Commissioner of the Islamic Police of Gao whom has been recently released in Mali without a legal basis. Our organizations, engaged in the documentation of crimes committed in Timbuktu and in litigation against Al Hassan and his group before Malian courts, believe there is sufficient evidence for the charges against Al Hassan at the ICC to be confirmed and for the trial to begin. This new judicial chapter may revive the ongoing investigations and prosecutions of alleged international crimes committed in Mali since 2012.

The confirmation of charges against Al-Hassan Ag Abdul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud at the ICC would be the second essential and promising step in establishing truth and justice for the crimes committed during the occupation of the Timbuktu region in 2012/2013, and a condemnation of political and military leaders for the terror that had taken place there. It comes three years after the sentencing of a former accomplice to Al Hassan - Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, also a member of Ansar Eddine, to nine years for the war crime of intentionally directing attacks against historic monuments and buildings dedicated to religion, including the destruction of a mosque and mausoleums in Timbuktu. At the time, FIDH and AMDH regretted that Al Mahdi was not prosecuted for his role in other crimes committed in Timbuktu, including crimes against humanity.

This time, in addition to attacks on historical monuments and mausoleums, the Prosecutor’s charges against Al Hassan include grave crimes against humanity, such as rape and sexual slavery, forced marriage, torture, other inhumane acts and serious violations of integrity, including amputations and gender-based persecution. For the first time before the ICC, the Court will consider gender-based persecution as a crime against humanity.

"While the case against Al Mahdi and his confession of guilt was a historic acknowledgment of the damage caused by Ansar Eddine to the cultural heritage of Timbuktu, Mali and the whole world, the case against Al Hassan takes into account the myriad of crimes committed by the group to assert its power and control over the population," said Amal Nassar, Permanent Representative of FIDH to the ICC. "In particular, accusations of gender-based persecution and forced marriage as an other inhumane act highlight the suffering endured by women and girls and its impact on their lives and on society as a whole".

These procedings at the ICC are all the more important against the little progress achieved in the judicial proceedings in Mali and the release of former Commissioner of the Gao Islamic Police on February 17, with no legal basis, after negotiations on prisoner exchanges.

"Considering that the only jihadist who was sentenced in Mali to 10 years in prison in 2017, Aliou Mahamane Touré, was released a few months ago without any legal justification, the commencement of proceedings against Al Hassan in The Hague is excellent news.” said Drissa Traoré, Vice-President of FIDH. “We hope that charges brought by the Prosecutor will be confirmed by the Pre-Trial Chamber and that a trial can begin quickly, hopefully paving the way for further prosecutions in The Hague and in particular in Mali of crimes committed in 2012-2013. We expect that these prosecutions of perpetrators at the intermediate level will pave the way for indicting and trying top level perpetrators”

The opening of the first hearings comes as the conflict intensifies in central Mali for several months (1), where armed extremist groups and intercommunal militias are engaged in abuses that may in the future be the subject of new investigations by the Office of the Prosecutor, if the Malian government fails to meet its obligation to investigate and prosecute such crimes. Between March and June 2019, at least 250 civilians were killed In centeral Mali following the massacres of Ogossagou, Sombame, Gangafani, Yoro.

"In order to stop the deadly spiral of the ongoing conflict in central Mali, there is an urgent need to resume the judicial chapter of the crimes committed during the occupation of Timbuktu in 2012/2013 and show that impunity can not be the rule and that those who have committed - or would be tempted to engage in - the most serious abuses will one day be judged by the ICC or before the Malian courts,"concludes Me Moctar Mariko, president of the Malian Association of the Human Rights (AMDH).

On 27 June 2019, the National Assembly in Mali adopted a bill extending the jurisdiction of the specialized judicial unit on anti terrorism and organized crime. With greater powers than ordinary courts, including in the means of investigation and prosecution, the specialized unit will now be also able to investigate war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Since 2014, AMDH and FIDH have constantly urged the Malian authorities to expand the competence of this specialised unit. This development could make it possible to relaunch investigations into crimes committed in Northern Mali, following years of standstill in investigations and prosecutions, and to provide a judicial response to the crimes that continue to be perpetrated in the central part of the country.

On the other hand, the Law of "national agreement", adopted on June 27, 2019, could bring mixed results. While certain reservations and observations expressed by the FIDH, the AMDH and several other organizations have been taken into account by members of parliament, concerns remain particularly the timning opportunity and over the risk of impunity for those responsible for the most serious crimes.

(1) Read FIDH report published on November 2018
https://www.fidh.org/en/region/Africa/mali/central-mali-populations-caught-between-terrorism-and-anti-terrorism

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