Al Hassan case: a welcomed conviction that falls short of justice for victims of gender-based crimes


The International Criminal Court (ICC) has convicted Al Hassan, former chief of the Timbuktu Islamic Police, of crimes against humanity, a first in Mali. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) welcomes this judgment which represents a victory for the victims, but regrets the absence of gender-based crimes amongst the conviction. FIDH had filed a joint complaint against Al-Hassan since 2015. FIDH urges the ICC Prosecutor to continue his investigations and prosecutions of the perpetrators of serious crimes committed in Mali, including gender-based crimes.

Paris, The Hague, 26 June 2024. Today, ICC judges have found Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud (Al Hassan), former de facto chief of Islamic police in Timbuktu and member of Ansar Dine, a group associated with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb ("AQIM"), guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Timbuktu, northern Mali, between 1 April 2012 and 28 January 2013. FIDH, which filed a complaint jointly with victims against Al Hassan in March 2015 before the Malian courts, welcomes this verdict. The decision comes at a time when national judicial proceedings are at a standstill despite the commitments made by the Malian authorities.

"This verdict represents an important step for the victims in their quest for justice in connection with international crimes committed in Mali in 2012. It brings them out of the indifference which the denial of justice at national level has plunged them into for more than 12 years, and acts as a reminder of the urgent need to put reparation measures in place", said Drissa Traoré, Secretary General of FIDH.

This is the first ICC case litigating crimes against humanity committed in northern Mali, marking an important step towards justice and accountability for mass atrocities committed in the country.

The judges recognised, by majority, that Al Hassan was responsible, either by directly committing the crimes himself, contributing to them or by aiding or abetting the commission of the crimes by others, for torture as a war crime and crime against humanity; outrages upon personal dignity as a war crime; the war crimes of mutilation, cruel treatment, and passing of sentences without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all judicial guarantees which are generally recognised as indispensable; as well as other inhumane acts and persecution on religious grounds as crimes against humanity.

The verdict in the Al Hassan case follows the Al Mahdi case in which Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, a former accomplice of Al Hassan, was sentenced to nine years in prison for war crimes related to the destruction of mosques and mausoleums in Timbuktu. Although Al Mahdi’s conviction was a victory for the victims of crimes in Mali, FIDH regretted at the time that it only concerned the destruction of monuments and not crimes committed directly against people, and called for the prosecution of sexual crimes.

However, today’s verdict is tainted with the disappointment that the ICC judges did not convict Al Hassan of any gender-based crimes. Although the Court recognised the existence of some of these crimes, it found there was insufficient evidence linking them to the accused, and Al Hassan was acquitted for the crime against humanity of forced marriage as other inhumane acts, sexual slavery as a crime against humanity and war crime and rape as a crime against humanity and war crime. By doing so, the verdict fails to recognise the seriousness and impact of gender-based crimes against women, girls, and men in Timbuktu. The Court also missed the opportunity to recognise gender-based persecution as a crime against humanity.

"I am partly disappointed by this verdict, which does not take into account the rapes, let alone the sexual slavery, which are some of the violences that I and other women from Timbuktu endured with the complicity of Al Hassan. I really had faith in the ICC, because we can’t get justice at national level. Yet everything seemed clear that he should also be condemned for these despicable acts, the consequences of which we are still suffering. However, I hope that he will receive a strong sentence so that this never happens again in Mali", said a survivor participating in the trial.

"Despite all the time it has taken, one of the perpetrators of serious crimes has just been found guilty. But we do not understand why sexual violence, including rape, forced marriage and sexual slavery, did not attract the attention of the ICC judges, even though they were committed under the very nose of the Islamic police led by Al Hassan. Many of these survivors are now living in tragic situations, having been abandoned by their husbands, stigmatised, marginalised, and lacking income. This verdict will set a very serious precedent and will certainly encourage the perpetration of sexual crimes in Mali and elsewhere", said a member of a local victims’ organisation.

The verdict in the Al Hassan case comes at a time when the conflict and violations of human rights and international criminal law by armed groups, militias and armed forces are intensifying in Mali. Malian authorities are also restricting the democratic space. The abuses committed by all parties of the conflict could be the subject of new investigations by the ICC Office of the Prosecutor, if Malian authorities continue to fail to fulfill their obligation to investigate and prosecute these crimes. In that context, FIDH welcomes the arrest warrant against Iyad Ag Ghaly for war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in northern Mali between January 2012 and January 2013, which was recently made public. FIDH calls on the ICC Prosecutor to continue investigating and prosecuting the perpetrators of other serious crimes committed in Mali, in particular those committed in the centre of the country since 2016, including gender-based crimes.


In January 2012, Mali faced an armed Tuareg insurrection in the north of the country. The Mouvement National de Libération de l’Azawad (MNLA) launched an offensive that was quickly joined by Islamist groups present in the Sahel (Ansar Dine, Al Qaida au Maghreb Islamique (AQIM), Mouvement pour l’Unicité du Djihad en Afrique de l’Ouest (MUJAO), Boko Haram). The fighting is being carried out in flagrant violation of human rights and international humanitarian law. The main towns in northern Mali, including Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu, fell into the hands of armed groups from the beginning of April 2012 until January 2013, when French and Malian troops intervened.

In July 2012, a number of judicial inquiries were opened at the Commune III Court of First instance in the District of Bamako. In March 2015, following a number of investigations, including a mission to Timbuktu from 23 February to 2 March 2015, FIDH, six Malian human rights organisations and 33 victims jointly filed a complaint with the Commune III Court of First instance in the District of Bamako against 15 alleged perpetrators of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in the Timbuktu region, including Al Hassan and Iyad Ag Ghaly, leader of the extremist group Ansar Dine. The arrest warrant for the latter for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in northern Mali between January 2012 and January 2013 was made public by the ICC on 21 June 2024. Dozens of women victims of gender-based violence, in particular rape and sexual slavery, testified against him. On 12 November 2013, our organisations filed an initial complaint as civil parties for crimes against humanity and war crimes with the Commune III Court of First Instance in Bamako, on behalf of 80 women and girls who were victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence committed during the occupation of northern Mali by armed groups in 2012 and 2013.

Mali, which ratified the Rome Statute on 16 August 2000, referred its situation to the ICC on 13 July 2012 for investigations into these serious human rights violations. On 16 January 2013, the ICC Office of the Prosecutor formally opened an investigation into alleged crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC committed in Mali. On 13 February 2013, the Government of Mali and the ICC concluded a cooperation agreement pursuant to Chapter IX of the ICC Statute. The Pre-Trial Chamber issued the first arrest warrant in the situation in Mali, under seal, for Al Mahdi on 18 September 2015. A week later, Al Mahdi, then detained by the Niger authorities, was transferred to the ICC. He was tried and found guilty as a co-perpetrator of the war crime consisting in intentionally directing attacks against religious and historic buildings in Timbuktu, Mali, in June and July 2012. Al Mahdi was then sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment in 2016.

On 27 March 2018, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud. He was transferred to the ICC on 31 March 2018 by the Niger authorities. On 30 September 2019, Pre-Trial Chamber I of the ICC issued a decision confirming the charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity against Al Hassan, subsequently amended on 23 April 2020. The trial opened on 14 July 2020 before Trial Chamber X. Around fifty people testified against Al Hassan.

Initially announced for 18 January 2024, the verdict was postponed until 26 June due to the presiding judge’s state of health.

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