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Statement :

Statement of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, at the opening of the trial in the case against Mr Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud

The following text is a mix of French and English

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and her team at the opening of the trial in the Al Hassan case on 14 July 2020 ©ICC-CPI<br>
ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and her team at the opening of the trial in the Al Hassan case on 14 July 2020 ©ICC-CPI

Monsieur le Président, Mesdames les Juges,

Aujourd'hui, commence le procès tant attendu des crimes inimaginables qui ont été commis au Mali.

Tombouctou a vécu pendant presqu'un an, d'avril 2012 à janvier 2013, dans la violence physique et morale infligée par les groupes armés Ansar Dine et Al Qaeda au Maghreb Islamique. Tombouctou, « la perle du désert », où la population vivait en paix depuis des années, a été soumise à leurs diktats. Tombouctou a subi leur tyrannie.

Dès qu'ils ont pris la ville, les membres d'Ansar Dine et d'AQMI ont créé des organes de contrôle et de répression. Ils ont notamment créé le tribunal islamique et la Police islamique dont M. Al Hassan a été le commissaire incontournable et zélé.

Ce faisant, les membres de ces groupes ont exercé une emprise implacable sur Tombouctou, sa région et la population civile impuissante. Leur plan et dessein était d'assujettir les Tombouctiens et Tombouctiennes à leur control et pouvoir.

Leur plan et dessein était de les soumettre à leur vision idéologique et religieuse personnelle. Et ce, au forceps, à grand renfort de brutalités et d'exactions constitutives de crimes contre l'humanité et de crimes de guerre au regard du Statut de Rome.

C'est là le cœur de la présente affaire : le recours à la violence, la commission de crimes sur des habitants rabaissés, humiliés, violentés et, pour tout dire, soumis à une véritable persécution pour des motifs religieux et sexistes dont ils ne voyaient pas la fin et dans laquelle Al Hassan, l'âme pensante et agissante de la police islamique, a joué un rôle central.

Monsieur le Président, Mesdames les Juges,

Je souhaite clarifier d'emblée le point suivant: cette affaire n'est aucunement dirigée contre l'Islam; cette affaire n'est dirigée contre aucune religion ou système de droit ou de pensée.

C'est simplement une affaire pénale impliquant des crimes graves. Vous êtes saisis du cas d'un homme, Al Hassan, dont nous allons démontrer au-delà de tout doute raisonnable qu'il est responsable de crimes relevant du Statut de Rome commis contre les habitants de Tombouctou et de sa région – des crimes commis contre les Maliens, contres ses propres compatriotes. Ni plus ni moins.

Il reviendra à votre Cour de poser que des individus comme Al Hassan ne peuvent pas rejoindre des groupes armés, quels qu'ils soient, occuper une partie d'un Etat souverain ayant choisi son système de gouvernement, et imposer par les armes et la violence à toute une population des préceptes et interdits, sous prétexte de mettre en œuvre leur vision idéologique et religieuse. Cela vaut quels que soient les idées, les principes ou la religion qu'on prétend suivre. Cela vaut quelles que soient les règles qu'on allègue vouloir appliquer.

C'est la nature même des actes criminels et la violence pure contre la population civile qui justifient la poursuite d'Al Hassan devant votre Chambre. La variété des nouveaux interdits et règles n'avait d'égale que la cruauté avec laquelle les institutions mises en place par Ansar Dine et AQMI et les hommes comme Al Hassan ont puni impitoyablement les habitants de Timbuktu qui, exerçant tout simplement leurs droits fondamentaux, ne se pliaient pas aux nouveaux diktats.

Monsieur le Président, Mesdames les Juges,

Permettez-moi de citer les paroles d'un Tombouctien, tant elles traduisent et résument la douleur et le désarroi des habitants. Il déclara, je cite: « la ville est devenue une ville fantôme. Morte en ce sens que toutes les populations étaient terrées dans leur maison, de peur d'être réprimées, de peur d'être humiliées, de peur d'être brutalisées, de peur d'être violentées […] ».

Le mot « peur » revient à quatre reprises dans cette phrase, comme un leitmotiv. Il décrit parfaitement le calvaire que les Tombouctiens ont vécu au quotidien pendant toute la durée de l'occupation.

Vous verrez l'exemple de Dédéou Maiga, qui est malheureusement décédé à ce jour. Il a été attaché à une chaise en place publique, devant toute la population. Sa main a été amputée de la manière la plus brutale qu'il soit au moyen d'une sorte de long couteau. Qui l'a jugé coupable ? Le tribunal islamique irrégulièrement mis en place par Ansar Dine et AQMI à Tombouctou pour donner une apparence de légitimité à leur régime tyrannique. Sa vie a irrémédiablement basculé. A ses yeux, sa vie était terminée.

L'objectif de ce châtiment public était double.

  • Premièrement, démontrer l'absence de limite aux pouvoir des groupes armés à Tombouctou; démontrer que personne ne peut s'opposer à eux, même lorsqu'ils commettent les actes les plus extrêmes et violents; et pour cause, Ansar Dine et AQMI avaient les armes pour eux.
  • Deuxièmement, faire un exemple, frapper les gens de stupeur, répandre la terreur. Et, partant, soumettre et contraindre davantage la population à respecter les nouvelles règles et interdits imposés.

Qui selon vous avait arrêté Dédéou ? C'est Al Hassan en personne. Vous verrez aujourd'hui Al Hassan dans une vidéo; il y assume sans état d'âme l'emploi de cette mutilation criminelle et brutale.

En fait, comme mon Bureau le prouvera, Al Hassan a été directement impliqué dans les violences et tortures infligées aux populations, aux hommes, aux femmes, et aux enfants de Tombouctou. En tant que commissaire, il occupait une fonction névralgique. Il œuvrait de manière proactive au cœur du système oppressif, répressif et persécuteur dans lequel les crimes poursuivis dans la présente affaire ont été commis. Notamment, la preuve montrera:

  • qu' Al Hassan assurait l'organisation, le management et le fonctionnement de la police islamique ;
  • qu' Al Hassan arrêtait et détenait les personnes ;
  • qu' Al Hassan conduisait les enquêtes sur les prétendues violations des règles imposées par les groupes, au cours desquels les suspects étaient torturés et menacés pour obtenir des confessions ;
  • qu' Al Hassan renvoyait les affaires au tribunal islamique;
  • qu' Al Hassan participait personnellement à la mise en œuvre des châtiments corporels au niveau de la police et ceux décidés par le tribunal islamique irrégulièrement constitué, et ce en public ou au siège de la police islamique.

Etant précisé qu' Al Hassan a œuvré avec les groupes armés Ansar Dine et AQMI pendant toute l'occupation de Tombouctou.

Le jour même de l'arrivée de ces groupes à Tombouctou début avril 2012, un témoin a vu Al Hassan et des membres des groupes armés à la banque qui allait vite devenir le siège de la police islamique. On a la preuve qu'il enquêté et écrit au moins un rapport de police dans une affaire qui fait partie de celles entendues par le tribunal islamique lors de sa session du 7 mai 2012. Il est resté le commissaire de la police islamique, véritable pilier de cette organe, jusqu'au départ des groupes armés de Tombouctou en janvier 2013.

Permettez-moi de passer maintenant en anglais — with your indulgence, I will now continue my statement in English.

Mr President, Your Honours,

Ansar Dine and AQIM are still active in Mali and the Timbuktu region. They pose a grave danger to the safety of witnesses and victims. I shall therefore not go into specific detail here: you have them in the confidential version of the Trial Brief and other filings. The people of Timbuktu themselves know full well what I'm alluding to, because they have experienced these crimes and suffered physical and mental anguish as a result of them.

The evidence of the Prosecution will demonstrate that, as the armed groups arrived, civilians fled to Bamako or other southern cities, as well as to neighbouring countries such as Mauritania or Burkina Faso. They had to leave everything behind. They had to leave their lives behind. Many left to escape the violence.

But others remained, for one reason or another. Some stayed behind because they simply did not have the means to flee; others, because they had elderly parents to take care of; others still, because they felt attached and responsible for their city or could not resign themselves to abandoning their beloved Timbuktu, especially during one of the worst moments in its modern history. Those who remained were subjected to a constant climate of fear and repression.

The members of Ansar Dine and AQIM made sure of that, continually strutting about with their weapons. In videos, that are publicly available, one can readily see the Islamic Police's weapons; one can see the 'judges'' weapons next to them during sessions of the tribunal; one would indeed see weapons everywhere, all the time. That includes heavy weapons mounted on pickup trucks driving around the city. The reign of terror was in place with its tools of enforcement on full display.

In this state of occupation and coercion, the Ansar Dine and AQIM's members, severely restricted, monitored and controlled everything. A Timbuktu local stated at the time, and I quote, "[i]n Timbuktu […] everything has [become …], illicit and forbidden." Another one pointed out that "everything was under the control […]" of the armed groups.

All aspects of life had indeed fallen under Ansar Dine's and AQIM's self-proclaimed rules and prohibitions. Drastic restrictions were imposed on private life, public life, leisure activities, cultural and religious practices, the manner of praying — this affected absolutely everything; even the way the inhabitants could or could not dress.

Not only were these rules new, but they were also quite alien to the residents of Timbuktu. These imposed 'rules' also denied many customs, traditions and social practices of the inhabitants, which had characterised the lives of the locals in Timbuktu, sometimes for generations. They constituted severe and serious violations of their fundamental rights, such as the right to religion, to private life or to education.

Here, I would like to present a brief overview of these rules to demonstrate their breadth and scope:

  • Banning religious practices at the tombs and mausoleums of Muslim saints;
  • Prohibiting celebrations, such as the celebration of Malououd;
  • Banning amulets and talismans;
  • Prohibiting statuettes, masks and pictorial representations;
  • Complete control over the media, including radio;
  • Banning public gatherings;
  • Closing public schools;
  • Banning music and dancing;
  • Segregating the sexes, including at school;
  • Imposing a new dress code on men and in particular women. Men needed to shorten their trousers and women were required to cover their bodies head to toe, a normal veil was not enough; and
  • In that same vain, banning women from wearing jewellery and make-up - even their traditional clothing was denied to them.

The list is long: I could go on. The control and domination was total. It was a complete change in the way of life of the inhabitants as many witnesses will testify.

Worse–still, any disobedience would result in severe and cruel punishment:

  • In the event of a breach of the new rules, corporal punishment would be applied on the spot by the Islamic Police, generally in the form of lashes by a whip. You will see some examples of such measures during the Prosecution's presentation of the case;
  • Punishments, including floggings up to 100 lashes, amputation, and imprisonment were also executed following decisions by the irregularly constituted Islamic tribunal.

Al Hassan himself pointed out during his interview with our investigators, and I quote, "[The residents] were not familiar with this punishment. It was the first time that […] they'd seen that. […]. They were scared out of their minds. They couldn't do anything. Everyone was afraid and feared the words 'jihadist' and 'terrorists'. They were scared of this punishment."

Clearly, Al Hassan was well-aware and indeed involved, as the evidence will show, in this cruel and brutal repression. A witness will testify that it is: "the Islamic Police [that] was often in charge of organising executions of sentences, and [that he] often saw Al Hassan in charge of them." This witness will further testify that: ''there was not a single event of execution of sentence in Tombouctou that [he] attended where Al Hassan was not present […]".

As a result, it is no surprise if, 1000 km to the South, in Bamako, a Witness heard about Al Hassan. This witness stated ''lots of people who fled to Bamako spoke about Al Hassan and the Islamic police ….''

Mr President, Your Honours,

The Prosecutor's evidence will demonstrate that the multiple acts perpetrated against the inhabitants of Timbuktu and its region constituted a real attack against the civilian population: sentences handed down by an irregularly constituted tribunal, sentences without prior judicial proceedings, torture, cruel treatment, other inhumane acts, outrages upon personal dignity, sexual slavery, acts of rape, attacks against historic monuments and buildings dedicated to religion, amongst other offenses.

These are all grave acts and crimes under the Rome Statute which, when taken in their totality, fit the characterisation of the crime of persecution, which is also specifically addressed in the Rome Statute.

There was religious persecution in Timbuktu: all the rules and prohibitions imposed on the residents stemmed from the ideological and purported religious vision of Ansar Dine and AQIM.

My Office has pledged to systematically fight impunity for gender-based crimes where the evidence supports such heinous crimes.

In the present case, gender-based persecution was yet another manifestation of this rule by force and terror. Indeed, it was the women and girls of Timbuktu and the region who were targeted and suffered the most. Our evidence will show that women had become the primary targets.

Women and girls were pursued into their very homes; they were abused, punished, beaten, imprisoned, and subjected to corporal punishment, for a variety of so-called breaches from failure to wear prescribed clothing, giving water to a man, not having gloves at the market to pay and receive money, amongst others.

With your indulgence, I would like to briefly touch upon the prison conditions, which added to the suffering inflicted on women. The evidence will show that women were kept in inhumane conditions in a small room at the Banque malienne de solidarité, which residents dubbed "the women's nightmare cell." It was a two square metres room housing the ATM. We will show you this infamous cell so that you can see for yourselves what these women endured. Women were locked up in that makeshift cell and treated shamefully. At times, not one, but several women were kept in confinement in that limited space. All this took place in oppressive heat. Some had no option but to relieve themselves in that cell.

Our evidence will also show the extreme degree of violence experienced by the women who were subjected to floggings. Al Hassan knows what I am talking about. He himself was personally involved in organising the infliction of corporal punishment in public on women accused of adultery. He can be seen on video or photographic material.

Some of the details are unbearable and particularly horrid: I am thinking, for instance, of a woman who fell to the ground under the sheer violence and force of the blows. Another woman, 'punished' with 100 lashes, stated, I quote : ''j'ai ressenti beaucoup de douleur physique …. Je ne pouvais pas me coucher sur le dos. …. j'avais des marques sur mon corps, il y avait des marques rouges et le sang avait coagulé sous ma peau.'' Al Hassan was present when this flogging was handed down and executed.

But there was an additional level to the horror. I am referring to all the sexual violence the women and girls — sometimes very young — were subjected to.

As our evidence will show, a system of marriage was put in place, mainly intended to enable the members of the armed groups to satisfy their sexual desires and needs at the expense of the women and girls. Many were hence forced into marriage, confined against their will, and repeatedly raped by one or more members of these armed groups. "All that was left of me was a corpse", it is how one victim recounted her ordeal.

It should be noted that these women and girls and their families had no choice. The evidence will demonstrate that some of the leaders of Ansar Dine and AQIM, including Al Hassan, assisted members of the Islamic police to enter into those so-called marriages, or participated in marriage negotiations, de facto exerting pressure on families and women through their presence and influence.

Overall, the targeting and persecution of women was such that it became emblematic of the physical and moral violence inflicted on all residents of Timbuktu.

Mr President, Your Honours,

The victimisation of the population, women and men, was significant and the case before you against Al Hassan is extremely serious.

The Prosecution has gathered a wealth of evidence.

This evidence will show that the reign of terror imposed on the inhabitants of Timbuktu during the period of occupation by the Ansar Dine and AQIM groups, was without precedent in the modern history of Mali and of the people of Timbuktu.

The residents of Timbuktu — men and women alike — were relentlessly tyrannised, on a daily basis, over a period of ten months.

This evidence will also show that Al Hassan, who perfectly knew the Timbuktu region and the local languages, was a key figure within the armed groups and played a key role in the system put in place to control the city and the region. The unassailable facts in this case point to his guilt and responsibility for all the crimes charged.

Al Hassan was engaging in such conduct unreservedly and with determination. In the evidence that the prosecution will present at this trial, you will see Al Hassan giving interviews approving and supporting the policy of the armed groups. You will see him parading with his Kalashnikov and then take a victim to the place where he was executed.

Al Hassan was clearly acting out of his free will.

All of this is corroborated by Al Hassan's own statements during the interview conducted by representatives of my Office, in the presence of a lawyer who assisted him and an article 56 Counsel appointed by a judge of this Court.

Mr President, Your Honours,

Back in 2016, Mr Al Mahdi was convicted for attacks against religious and historic monuments in Timbuktu.

Today, the case against Mr Al Hassan is before you with a wider spectrum of crimes. This case represents the continued efforts of my Office to bring justice to the people of Timbuktu and Mali more broadly who fell victim to those heinous crimes. The suffering endured by Timbuktu and its inhabitants is emblematic of what happened in Mali, and the conflict that continues to create misery and suffering in the country.

The importance of this trial to the victims and Malians in general cannot be overemphasized. Serious crimes under international law cannot go unpunished. It sends a clear message to all the parties to the conflict operating on the ground in Mali that those responsible for serious violations will be held accountable.

Mali deserves justice. The victims of the accused's crimes deserve justice. This Court has the opportunity to make an important and tangible contribution to that need and yearning.

This trial also does not operate in vacuum. As we embark on this trial, the situation in the centre of Mali but also the rising tensions and related instability and violent incidents in Bamako remain a great concern to my Office.

All the parties involved must refrain from resorting to violence.

The specific and general deterrence of this case is to be appreciated in this larger context.

Mali and Malians have suffered immensely. They deserve to have this Court on their side. They deserve to have justice done and see that it is done.

The ICC stands as a last beacon of hope for those looking to it for justice for the world's gravest crimes.

We must deliver on that promise and indeed obligation.

Mr President, Your Honours,

I thank you for your attention. I will now hand the floor over to my learned colleague, the senior trial lawyer in the case, Mr Gilles Dutertre who will present the context in which the crimes in question were allegedly committed with a more detailed outline of the evidence supporting the charges. I thank you.

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Source : Office of the Prosecutor