Mali – Al Hassan to the ICC: a milestone for justice

Press release
en fr

(Bamako, Paris) The transfer of Al Hassan, chief of the Islamic police in Timbuktu during the city’s occupation by Jihadist groups in 2012 and 2013, to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague is a milestone in judicial proceedings brought for crimes committed during that period. This is the first prosecution in the Mali situation before the ICC for war crimes and crimes against humanity against individuals, and in particular for charges of sexual and gender-based violence, namely rape, sexual slavery and, for the first time before the Court, persecution on gender grounds. The victims and our organisations, who lodged a complaint against him with the Malian courts in March 2015, welcome this prosecution, taking place at a time when the national judicial proceedings appear to be at a standstill, despite the commitments made by the Malian authorities.

In March 2015, following numerous investigations, FIDH, AMDH, WILDAF, AJM, DEMESO, Cri de Coeur Collective and 33 victims lodged a complaint with the court of District 3 in Bamako against 15 alleged perpetrators of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in the Timbuktu region, including Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud who held the position of chief of Islamic police during the city’s occupation. According to information gathered by our organisations, Al Hassan was directly involved in sexual violence committed against several dozens of women who were victims of rape and sexual slavery, among other offences.

Whereas Al Mahdi has been sentenced to 9 years of imprisonment by the ICC exclusively for his conduct in the destruction of religious and historic buildings in Timbuktu, the arrest warrant issued by the ICC against Al Hassan concerns, in addition to those same charges, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed against individuals, including torture, sexual violence and gender-based violence (rape and sexual slavery), and is, therefore, the first prosecution before the ICC for persecution on gender grounds.

The arrest and transfer of Al Hassan to The Hague represent significant progress in the investigations and prosecutions carried out by the ICC, in particular for the Timbuktu victims who are still waiting for justice to be done.

« We are pleased that the Court has listened to us and has broadened the scope of its prosecutions in Mali to include crimes against individuals and, in particular, crimes of sexual and gender-based violence. The transfer of Al Hassan to The Hague is a relief for the victims, especially at a time when the situation in the centre and the north, including Timbuktu, is deteriorating with a renewed outbreak of acts of violence attributed to armed terrorist groups. We hope that this decision by the ICC will send a strong signal to the various perpetrators of violence in the region »

Moctar Mariko, president of the AMDH and lawyer for victims in Mali

Whilst our organisations welcome this progress, we nevertheless wish to stress, that since an investigation was commenced by the Malian justice system in 2015, following the complaint lodged by our organisations, Al Hassan could have been tried by the national courts,just as Aliou Mahamane Touré, former chief of Islamic police in Gao, was in August 2017. Our organisations also wish stress that Ag Alfousseyni Houka Houka, who was the Islamic judge of Timbuktu during the occupation of the city of Timbuktu and who, in that capacity, issued decisions which were implemented by Al Hassan’s Islamic police, is now, following his release in August 2014, in the municipality of Essakane, situated in the Timbuktu region, where he is regularly seen. Houka Houka still stands accused by the Malian justice system of crimes committed in Timbuktu, and the de facto impunity from which he benefits is an infringement of the victims’ right to justice.

This decision sends a strong signal to an environment which does little to promote the fight against impunity in Mali. With the July presidential election fastly approaching, a preliminary draft law of national understanding, announced by the President of the Republic on 31 December 2017, was sent by the Ombudsman of the Republic to the prime minister on 5 March, without the involvement of any civil society actors. That draft could provide for amnesties for ‘all those involved in an armed rebellion’ who have ‘no blood on their hands’. Given that there has been no further progress in the judicial proceedings, the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (CVJR) has not finished its work and the International Commission of Inquiry has only just started its assignment,our organisations call on the Malian authorities to suspend this process and to wait until the necessary enquiries can be carried out. Otherwise, such a law could enshrine impunity and arbitrariness, a long way away from the commitments made by the national authorities since 2013.

« We hope that this decision will make it possible to resume the proceedings underway before the Malian courts. Mali’s cooperation with the ICC is a positive sign. However, it must be accompanied by a strong political will to prosecute the other perpetrators of these crimes at the national level, otherwise the victims’ expectations cannot be met »

Drissa Traore, vice-president of FIDH

The Sanogo trial, which has been stalled since November 2016 has still not resumed in addition to a number of other judicial proceedings that are at a standstill. Our organisations published a report in December 2017, setting out concrete recommendations for strengthening the Malian judicial system in order to meet the commitment made to justice.

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