ICL Media Review - Week 34
By ICL Media Review
In this week's review, news about the ICC trial against Al-Mahdi, Al-Mahdi’s guilty plea, crimes in Syrian prisons, possible war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide by ISIL, as well as STL contempt sentencing hearing.
On 22 August, the ICC opened the trial against defendant, Ahmad al-Fadi al-Mahdi, who pleaded guilty to the war crime charge of destroying cultural heritage in Timbuktu, Mali. The leader of Ansar Dine, an Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) affiliate, admitted directing the destruction of nine mausoleums, a mosque door and priceless manuscripts of Timbuktu’s archives in 2012, when the city was overrun by the extremist group. In his statement, Al-Mahdi expressed his “deep regret” for the damage he caused to the people of Timbuktu and the international community as a whole. “I seek their forgiveness and I ask them to look at me as a son who has lost his way”, Al-Mahdi said. “Those who forgive me will be rewarded by the almighty. I would like to make them a solemn promise that this was the first and the last wrongful act I will ever commit”, he added. At the Court’s first-ever trial for cultural crimes, Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda described Al-Mahdi’s crime as one that “leaves us all diminished”, while stating that the trial would support reconciliation and serve as a deterrent. “It brings truth and catharsis. It is crucial for Timbuktu’s victims,” she said. A vast amount of open-source and video evidence was presented in court by the Prosecution, revealing Al-Mahdi and his men reducing various cultural artifacts to rubble. As the first defendant to plead guilty at the ICC, Al-Mahdi faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison, despite the deal he struck with the prosecution for a 9 to 11-year sentence, to which the judges are not bound. Expected to last only a week, the trial is set to become the shortest in ICC history. (Justice Hub, The Guardian, The Guardian, DW News)
The ICC Prosecutor released a press statement on the start of the trial explaining Mr Al-Mahdi’s role in the deliberate destruction of historic and religious buildings in Timbuktu. The Prosecutor emphasised the direct involvement and the active role of the accused in a group armed by “Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Ansar Dine during the occupation of Timbuktu in 2012”, leader of the morality brigade. The Prosecutor highlighted his “central role” in the attacks. Considering that the accused’s actions were constitutive of war crimes, the Prosecutor described the trial as historic, even more so as it occurs in the context of the “destructive rage marking our times”. Insisting on the heritage value of the destroyed buildings and their meaning for many, the Prosecutor stressed the cultural, testimonial and educational nature of Timbuktu and its mausoleums, as well as their crucial role in shaping the identity of the people of Timbuktu. The Prosecutor further explained that the seriousness of this crime lay in the fact that it was an attack “on the identity, the memory and, therefore, the future of entire populations” and that “culture is who we are”, stating that "by eradicating the mausoleums, Mr Al-Mahdi intentionally destroyed something that is intangible and immeasurable”, consciously and with determination. The Prosecutor then developed the fact that such attacks became “actual weapons of war” used “to eliminate entire communities and wipe out any traces left of them”. The Prosecutor called for results from the appeals made by the Malian authorities and the international community to take action against such serious crimes. She also stated that she was satisfied with the expeditiousness of the trial, which will benefit both the victims and the accused, recognising that the accused’s admission of guilt was serving justice. (ICC Press Release)
A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for 29 August in the contempt case against Ibrahim Mohamed Ali Al Amin and Akhbar Beirut S.A.L. at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. The sentencing decision will be delivered the same day, with the maximum penalty possible for a person found guilty of contempt being seven years and/or a fine of €100,000. The judgment in case STL-14-06 was delivered on 15 July 2016: Judge Nicola Lettieri found both defendants guilty of knowingly and wilfully interfering with the administration of justice. Ibrahim Mohamed Ali Al Amin and Akhbar S.A.L. published information on the identity of confidential witnesses in the STL Ayyash case, an action that was felt to have undermined public confidence in the STL’s ability to protect witnesses. (STL press release)
A new report by Amnesty International details the systematic use of rape and the torture of tens of thousands political prisoners in Syria. The report estimates that 17,723 people have died in custody in Syria since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began in March 2011. Charges in the report were based on interviews with 65 torture survivors who recounted the horrors of the prisons in Syria, providing harrowing accounts of the inhumane treatment and rampant torture they were subject to by prison guards. The report comes after the UN Human Rights Council accused the Syrian government in February of carrying out a state policy of extermination against thousands of detainees. “For decades, Syrian government forces have used torture as a means to crush their opponents”, said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director. “Today, it is being carried out as part of a systematic and widespread attack directed against anyone suspected of opposing the government in the civilian population and amounts to crimes against humanity”, he added. International efforts to seek accountability in Syria have been repeatedly quashed by Russia and China, which have used their veto power against two UN Security Council resolutions referring the Syrian situation to the International Criminal Court. (BBC News)
UN Mission Report highlights possible ISIL war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide
On Thursday, the UN released a new report recounting the “terrible atrocities” being committed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) against the Yezidi community and other ethnic and religious groups in Iraq. The report was compiled by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). It details the testimony of survivors of ISIS’ atrocities in Iraq, including accounts of systematic and widespread killings, sexual slavery, forced displacement and other inhumane treatment. According to the report, approximately 3,500 women, girls and some men, the vast majority of whom are Yezidi, remain in ISIL captivity. “No effort must be spared in ensuring accountability for these terrible crimes and to send a clear message that no one may perpetrate them with impunity”, said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, calling upon the international community to intervene on the matter. The report also refers to ISIL’s abuses and violations as akin to war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. It concludes that “everything feasible must be done to create safe [and] dignified conditions for the Yezidi, along with [internally displaced persons] from other communities, to return to their places of origin”. Back in September 2015, members of Iraq’s Yezidi community met with the International Criminal Court Prosecutor to call for the opening of an investigation into the situation in Northern Iraq. (UN News Centre)
- Ahmed al-Faqi al-Mahdi (Bing)
- ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda (Bing)
- STL Court (Flickr)
- Syrian civilians (Bing)
ICL Media Review is an independent UK Small Charity, which aims to provide a daily survey of news and developments affecting international criminal law and international human rights in a neutral and impartial manner.