From 29 to 31 March, I had the honour to make my third official visit to Mali. This was my last visit as Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (the « Court » or ICC) before my term ends next June. During the visit, my delegation and I participated in a full programme of fruitful meetings and discussions with the Malian authorities, as well as with representatives of the judiciary, civil society and victims’ associations, community and religious leaders, and members of the academic community and the media. We also met with representatives of the United Nations and the diplomatic corps in Mali.
I would like to express my sincere gratitude, on behalf of myself and my team, to the Malian authorities and to the President of the Transition, H.E. Mr Bah N’Daw, for their warm welcome and cooperation during our visit to Bamako and Timbuktu.
I would also like to thank the ICC Trust Fund for Victims and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (« UNESCO ») for organising and graciously inviting us to a historic symbolic reparations ceremony for victims. The event paid tribute to the suffering, courage and resilience of these victims, and followed the conviction of Mr Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, the first individual charged and convicted by the ICC of the war crime of intentionally directing attacks against religious and historical buildings in Timbuktu, Mali. Mr Al Mahdi was sentenced to nine years imprisonment and ordered to pay €2.7 million in reparations to the victims. His conviction sent a clear message that given the seriousness of crimes of this nature under international law, the perpetrators must be held accountable and responsible for their actions. We must no longer accept the targeting and destruction of cultural heritage with impunity.
As I said at this ceremony, when cultural property is destroyed, that past is lost forever, causing irreparable loss to all of humanity. We must mobilise all our resources and, within our respective mandates, collectively fight the scourge of the destruction of cultural heritage in times of war and conflict. The fight against impunity of perpetrators of atrocious crimes and for the protection of cultural heritage cannot be an individual affair and, more than ever, success in this fight requires joint initiatives and collaboration. We must remain #UnitedForHeritage.
Given the importance that my Office and I attach to this issue, and in line with my Strategic Plan to focus on crimes against or detrimental to cultural heritage, we recently issued a Draft Cultural Heritage Policy for consultation and comment by representatives of States Parties to the Rome Statute, civil society and other stakeholders. My Office has benefited from the close collaboration of UNESCO in this initiative, and I would like to take this opportunity to publicly acknowledge the absolutely crucial work that this organization is doing and to thank its members for their cooperation and assistance. We look forward to continuing our collaboration with them.
In our second case in the situation in Mali, the trial of Mr Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud has been ongoing since last July. He is facing 13 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including sexual and gender-based crimes and deliberate attacks on cultural heritage, allegedly committed in Timbuktu. This is the first time an individual has been prosecuted before the ICC for the crime of gender and religious persecution. Attacks on cultural heritage are part of the underlying crimes.
My Office will continue its efforts to ensure that these serious crimes, including attacks on cultural heritage, our common heritage, do not go unpunished. During my visit to Timbuktu, the direct exchanges I had with leaders of the various communities and people affected by the acts of destruction that ravaged this historic city reinforced my conviction of the importance of bringing to justice the perpetrators of such crimes. History, which is threatened by these attacks on places of memory, will remember our inaction or lack of resolve.
ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda at the Djingareyber Mosque, one of the sites on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger in Mali
During my visit, I also had a dialogue with representatives of the Malian authorities on the ongoing violence in their territory, including the worrying situation in the centre of the country and the need to ensure that national investigations are carried out as soon as possible and that those responsible for atrocities against the civilian population are brought to justice. I reiterated my Office’s commitment to providing the necessary support and to supporting national efforts to investigate the atrocities and bring those responsible to justice, in accordance with our mandate and the principle of complementarity.
Our investigations in Mali are ongoing. I thank the Malian authorities for their cooperation and support. My Office remains committed to doing its utmost, within its mandate and resources, to bring justice to victims of atrocities at the ICC or by supporting national proceedings under the complementarity regime.
The Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC conducts preliminary examinations, investigations and prosecutions of the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression in an impartial and independent manner. Since 2003, the Office has been investigating several situations within the jurisdiction of the ICC, including Afghanistan (request for deferral of investigation under Article 18 pending), Bangladesh/Myanmar, Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire, Darfur (Sudan), Georgia, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Uganda, Central African Republic (two separate situations), Democratic Republic of Congo and Palestine. The Office is also conducting preliminary examinations of the situations in Bolivia, Colombia, Guinea, the Philippines and Venezuela (I and II) and has recently completed two others on the situations in Nigeria and Ukraine (pending requests for authorisation to open an investigation).