Statement: 24 March 2016

Statement of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, following admission of guilt by the accused in Mali war crime case: “An important step for the victims, and another first for the ICC”

Today the Pre-Trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Court ("ICC") confirmed the charge of war crime brought by my Office against Mr Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, and committed him to trial for attacking historic monuments and buildings dedicated to religion in Timbuktu, Mali between approximately 30 June and 11 July 2012. Following this decision, I can now publicly note a further significant development.  

On 1 March 2016, Mr Al Mahdi explicitly expressed before ICC Judges and in the presence of his lawyers, his wish to plead guilty. He did so during the course of the confirmation of charges proceedings, at a point where the exchanges were in closed session. This part of the court record has now been made public. 

This case is in many ways historically important in that it focuses exclusively on the war crime of intentionally directing attacks against 'cultural property'. The deliberate and wanton destruction of historic mausoleums and buildings dedicated to religion, as witnessed in this case, caused severe harm to the religious practices, historical heritage, and cultural identity of the people of Timbuktu, Malians and the region more generally. The loss was not locally confined. The magnitude of the loss of such irreplaceable physical embodiment of history and culture was felt by the whole of humanity, and at the expense of future generations. This case underscores the seriousness of such crimes, and the necessity to hold perpetrators accountable.  My Office is determined to continue to do its part to counter the scourge of such reprehensible crimes.

This is the first time that a suspect has expressed his intention to plead guilty to criminal conduct for which he is being prosecuted by my Office; a serious crime for which we had gathered overwhelming evidence. Such an admission of guilt, provided for in article 65 of the Rome Statute, will be a milestone in the history of the ICC.

This case is also unprecedented in terms of its expeditiousness and efficiency. The arrest warrant against Mr Al Mahdi was issued in September 2015. The arrest took place in the ensuing days, facilitated by the impressive cooperation of the States involved. The initial appearance hearing was held on 30 September 2015. The charge and the legal and factual submissions in support of the charge were filed on 17 and 18 December 2015. The confirmation of charges hearing was held on 1 March 2016. 

The case will shortly be referred to a Court's Trial Chamber. It will be for the designated judges of that Chamber to decide how the case should proceed in light of Mr Al Mahdi's stated intention to admit guilt.  

This now potentially clears the way for proceedings which will benefit victims, witnesses, and the suspect himself — who, in this way, should be able to obtain a final judgement in this case in a relatively short time.

The impact of my Office's overwhelming evidence, combined with Mr Al Mahdi's intention to acknowledge guilt together represent a positive development towards the establishment of the truth in this case and the 2012 events which left their painful mark on Timbuktu, and this World Heritage site. More broadly, it represents a further step towards the realisation of tangible justice for atrocity crimes in Mali.

In addition to the ends of justice, it is my sincere hope that this judicial development will contribute to peace, stability and reconciliation in Mali.

Source: Office of the Prosecutor | Contact: [email protected]