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Statement : | English, Français

Statement of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, at the opening of the confirmation of charges hearing in the case against Mr Ahmad Al-Faqi Al Mahdi

Madame la Présidente, Messieurs les juges,

«  Tombouctou est sur le point de perdre son âme, Tombouctou est sous la menace de vandalisations outrageantes, Tombouctou a sous la gorge le couteau tranchant d'un froid assassinat. » -- C'est ce cri de désespoir que lançait unhabitant de Tombouctou lors de la destruction des mausolées de la ville. Même sentiment de désolation et d'impuissance chez un autre Tombouctien, qui disait, je le cite : « ils ont détruit tout ce qu'on a. On n'a pas de forces pour nous défendre ».

Madame la Présidente, Messieurs les juges,

Le Statut de Rome prohibe et punit les actes criminels les plus intolérables: les crimes de génocide, les crimes contre l'humanité et les crimes de guerre. Ces crimes se matérialisent sous plusieurs formes. Mais ils ont tous un point commun : ils infligent un préjudice irrémédiable à la personne humaine dans sa chaire ou dans son esprit, dans son âme et dans son identité.

La présente affaire concerne un crime international prohibé par le Statut de Rome ; un crime qui affecte l'âme et l'esprit d'un peuple comme vous allez le voir dans mes propos d'aujourd'hui.

Soumise depuis le début du mois d'avril 2012 au bon vouloir des groupes armés Ansar Dine et Al Qaida au Maghreb islamique, la population de Tombouctou s'est réveillée au matin du 30 juin 2012  pour constater avec consternation qu'une attaque avait été lancée par ces groupes. Ces attaques étaient menées pour détruire ce qui constituait leur patrimoine historique et occupait une place centrale dans leur vie.

Madame la Présidente, Messieurs les juges,

Les destructions en cause dans cette affaire ont duré environ deux semaines, jusque vers le 11 juillet 2012. En seulement une dizaine de jours, dix (10) bâtiments ont été attaqués et purement et simplement détruits. Il s'agissait d'édifices emblématiques. Ils faisaient partie des monuments les plus connus de Tombouctou. Ils étaient pour la plupart d'entre eux classés par le droit national malien. Ils étaient aussi tous, sauf un d'entre eux, protégés par l'UNESCO comme sitesdu patrimoine mondial.

Hélas, à l'époque, rien n'a été possible pour stopper la fureur destructrice des groupes armés ni pour épargner ces édifices dont la valeur était immense.

With your indulgence Your Honours, I will continue my submissions in English.

The suspect, Mr Ahmad Al-Faqi Al Mahdi, also known by his nom de guerre: "Abou Tourab," is appearing before you today charged for this callous attack which he led; an attack that was planned and carried out with various tools and equipment.

The facts are out in the open. The attack received extensive media coverage around the world.  Mr Ahmad Al-Faqi Al Mahdi, and his co-perpetrators, revealed to the whole world their contempt for these buildings and for the rules set out by the Rome Statute, which defines such conduct as a war crime.

Let us be clear: what is at stake here is not just walls and stones. The destroyed mausoleums were important, from a religious point of view, from an historical point of view, and from an identity point of view. Such an attack against buildings dedicated to religion and historic monuments falls into the category of crimes that destroy the roots of an entire people and profoundly and irremediably affect its social practices and structures. This is precisely why such acts constitute a crime under article 8(2)(e)(iv) of the Rome Statute.

Let there be no mistake: the charges we have brought against Mr Ahmad Al-Faqi Al Mahdi involve most serious crimes; they are about the destruction of irreplaceable historic monuments, and they are about a callous assault on the dignity and identity of entire populations, and their religious and historical roots.  The inhabitants of Northern Mali, the main victims of these attacks, deserve to see justice done.

No longer should such reprehensible conduct go unpunished. 

Allow me to begin with the religious dimension of the mausoleums. The mausoleums and saints of Timbuktu play an important role in the daily lives of the city's inhabitants. The mausoleums are frequently visited by the city's residents, usually on Fridays. They are places of worship. The act of going to the mausoleums is perceived as a sign of faith and religious piety. Some even travel to them on pilgrimages.

It is specifically these practices that the armed groups so called Ansar Dine and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) wanted to annihilate by destroying the mausoleums in question.

As Witness P-0125 stated, the destruction of the mausoleums "a fait très mal à la population."  It became impossible for the inhabitants of Timbuktu to devote themselves to their religious practices. These practices were deeply rooted in their lives. These practices signified the deepest and most intimate part of a human being: Faith. These practices were part of their shared life together.

At this point, I wish to stress that this case is not about determining who was right or wrong from a religious point of view. The bottom line is that the attacked monuments had a religious use and had an historic nature: this is all that matters. To intentionally direct an attack against such monument is a war crime under the Rome Statute, regardless of the judgement by other people on the religious practices by the inhabitants of Timbuktu.

Madam President, Your Honours,

The mausoleums and mosques in Timbuktu were not only intrinsic to current religious practices. They were also very closely linked to the city's past and rich history.

In the 15th and 16th Centuries, Timbuktu became one of the intellectual and spiritual capitals of Africa. It played an essential role in the expansion of Islam; it was the cradle of education, a place of enlightenment, for generations of students, and attracted many scholars, some of whom are considered Muslim saints. Following their deaths, mausoleums were erected in their honour, and to celebrate their contributions. 

The destruction of such monuments constitutes the annihilation of structures that had survived the ravages of time and which stood as testimony to Timbuktu's glorious past and important place in history and to its people over generations.

At the time of the events, the Minister of Culture of Mali, shocked by such destructive acts, stated, and I quote: "Our ancestors […] bequeathed us with these properties. My plea is […] to preserve the country's history."

The mausoleums that were attacked and destroyed were not only invaluable and irreplaceable testimony to history and a site of religious practice, but also, more generally, embodied Timbuktu's image and identity.

Timbuktu is also known as the "City of 333 Saints." To destroy Timbuktu's mausoleums is to destroy its identifying symbol. As a resident of the city declared on Radio France Internationale expressed the sentiment this way: "The people are very, very angry today because the mausoleum is the symbol of Timbuktu."

More so, to destroy the mausoleums is to erase this element of collective identity that the people of Timbuktu, built throughout the ages. It means the annihilation of a civilisation's landmark and crucible which constitute necessary archetypes in the social memory and help build and inspire future generations.

The Minister of Culture of Mali summed up these considerations most aptly in February 2013, when he called the destruction: "an attack on the lifeblood of our souls, on the very quintessence of our cultural values. Their purpose was to destroy our past, […], our identity, and, indeed, our dignity. "

Madam President, Your Honours,

Beyond Mali, the sites attacked were not only important for the people of Timbuktu and Mali. They were also important for the whole of Africa and the entire world.

It is rightly said that "cultural heritage is the mirror of humanity." Such attacks affect humanity as a whole. We must stand up to the destruction and defacing of our common heritage.

This point is brought home most forcefully when we consider the reactions to the suspect's campaign of destruction in Timbuktu.

Algeria, for example, through its Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, strongly condemned the attacks, stating that the mausoleums "are not only part of the Islamic cultural heritage belonging to the memory and the collective consciousness of Mali, but also as a common heritage shared by both Algeria and Mali."

The Chairperson of the African Group at the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) emphasised that "it is not only Mali which is affected by the destruction of heritage sites in that country. Mali's heritage sites are Africa's heritage sites and they are also the world's heritage sites."

As a matter of fact, with one exception, all of sites in Timbuktu had been designated by UNESCO as World Heritage sites. This is because, beyond the borders of Mali and Africa, the mausoleums constituted a chapter in the history of humanity. Humanity as a whole was affected by this loss.

The attack in question rightfully raised a chorus of protests and outrage nationally, regionally and internationally.

The African Union, the UN Security Council, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), UNESCO and many countries expressed their strong condemnation of these events. 

In short, humanity's collective conscience was shocked by the senseless destruction of its common heritage. 

Madam President, Your Honours,

Words of condemnation are not enough. Humanity must stand firm in rejecting these crimes through concrete punitive action. 

History itself, whose physical embodiment is at peril through such attacks, will not be generous to our failure to care or to act decisively.   Such an attack must not go unpunished.  

Attacks against cultural property are a constant. Sadly, there are too many examples as recent acts of destruction in the cities of Aleppo and Palmyra in Syria demonstrate.

In the words of expert witness, witness P-0151: "the destructions of Timbuktu sites were for UNESCO among the most significant ones since the destruction of the statues of the Bamyan Buddhas in Afghanistan in 2001."

Two resolutions from the UN Security Council, issued in October and December 2012 respectively, stressed that: "such acts may amount to crimes under the Rome Statute and that their perpetrators must be held accountable […]."

We must protect our common heritage from the desecration, ravages and long-term effects of such destructive acts.

The appeals of the Malian and the international community must yield results. Such an attack is a serious crime under the Rome Statute.

It is incumbent upon to us to make sure that those responsible for such attacks are held responsible. This is the true significance of this hearing here today.

I want to also stress here that Mr Ahmad Al-Faqi Al Mahdi is one of the few identified persons from the common plan to attack Timbuktu who is still alive.

Madam President, Your Honours,

Allow me to briefly focus on the suspect, Mr Mr Ahmad Al-Faqi Al Mahdi.

The suspect was appointed to head the Hisbah, the morality brigade, which was one of the organs established by the groups. He then established and developed the Hisbah, which as mentioned he led from its creation, in April 2012, until September 2012. In addition to his role as head of the Hisbah, Mr AL MAHDI was active in some of the other structures established by armed groups in Timbuktu and in the activities they carried out in 2012 to impose by force their ideology, control and power over the population.

As the Prosecution will demonstrate, the evidence against Mr Ahmad Al-Faqi Al Mahdi is overwhelming.

We will prove that Mr Al Mahdi espoused a common plan to attack these sites, buildings and monuments.

He was the pro-active and determined leader of this attack.

He oversaw it in his capacity as head of the morality brigade, the Hisbah. He also physically participated in the attack and destruction.

Madame la Présidente, Messieurs les juges,

C'est la première fois que mon Bureau, sur la base des éléments de preuve recueillis dans le cadre de ses enquêtes, retient un tel chef d'accusation portant sur des biens, des bâtiments religieux et culturels et des monuments historiques.

C'est la première fois que cette Cour peut défendre le patrimoine culturel d'une communauté, lui reconnaître sa véritable importance et contribuer à lutter contre le fléau qui les touche et qui est trop souvent le prélude aux pires exactions contre les populations.

Enfin, c'est aussi la première fois qu'un suspect dans la situation du Mali est déféré devant cette Cour. Le premier suspect, M. Ahmad Al Faqi Al Madhi, est devant vous Madame la Présidente, Messieurs les juges. 

C'est donc l'occasion pour dire aux victimes de ces attaques que nous avons enfin entendu leurs cris de désespoir. Nos enquêtes se poursuivent et nous entendons faire tout ce qui est à notre disposition pour que les responsables des crimes du Statut de Rome qui sont commis au Mali répondent de leurs actes.

Je vous remercie pour votre attention et laisse la parole à Gilles Dutertre, premier substitut du Procureur en charge de cette affaire.

OTPNewsDesk@icc-cpi.int

Source : Office of the Prosecutor