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Statement of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, following the transfer of the first suspect in the Mali investigation: “Intentional attacks against historic monuments and buildings dedicated to religion are grave crimes”

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The surrender by Niger authorities of the suspect, Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi and his transfer earlier today to the custody of the International Criminal Court ("ICC" or the "Court") is a welcome development.  It represents an important step forward in the fight against impunity, not only in Mali but also in the broader Sahel and Sahara region of Africa, whose populations have in recent years been subjected to unspeakable crimes. 

Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, also known as "Abou Tourab", is accused of allegedly committing the war crime of intentionally directing attacks against ten buildings dedicated to religion and historic monuments in the ancient city of Timbuktu, Mali.  A zealous member of an armed group, self-proclaimed "Ansar Dine", he played a predominant and active role in the functioning of the local structure put in place during the group's occupation of Timbuktu in 2012, as detailed in my Office's application for the warrant of arrest which led to his surrender.

The people of Mali deserve justice for the attacks against their cities, their beliefs and their communities.  Let there be no mistake: the charges we have brought against 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. 

Intentional attacks against historic monuments and buildings dedicated to religion are serious crimes under the Rome Statute – the founding treaty of the ICC, adopted by more than 120 states from around the world.  No longer should such reprehensible conduct go unpunished.   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 is the first time that on the strength of the evidence collected my Office has brought such charges against a suspect in proceedings before this Court.  We will continue to do our part to highlight the severity of such war crimes with the hopes that such efforts will deter the commission of similar crimes in the future. 

I am grateful to the authorities of Mali and Niger for their cooperation in this surrender, as well as other regional and international actors who facilitate the work of the Court in the region. 

This is our first significant step in Mali, built on the heels of our investigations.  I am confident that our close collaboration with the Malian authorities will continue to generate positive results for our common cause of holding to account those most responsible for perpetrating atrocity crimes in the country.

Source : Office of the Prosecutor