Destruction of Protected Buildings is a War Crime
October 18, 2016
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The ICC’s first ever case prosecuting an individual for the war crime of attacking protected objects, like religious and historic monuments, involved charges brought against Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi in the northwestern African country of Mali. Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi is a member of a Tuareg Islamic extremist militia and in this case is responsible for the intentional destruction of ten religious and historic sites in Timbukti, Mali. These sites include nine mausoleums and one mosque. Attacks on these types of buildings constitute “protected” under the law because they are considered a significant part of the cultural heritage of Timbuktu and Mali. Ahmad Al-Mahdi was charged with the co-perpetration of this destruction, and his charges were significant because of his specific intent of targeting these places due to their religious and historical identity. The impact of this crime on the local community was extensive; destruction of mausoleums and mosques is extremely disrespectful against the Islamic culture.
Although the building destruction occurred throughout June and July of 2012, the warrant for his arrest was not issued until September 18, 2015. The situation was referred to the ICC by the Mali government on July 13, 2012, and the investigation began in January of 2013. This case is unique in that it is the first case to prosecute perpetrators for destructing protected buildings, compared to attacks against civilians. Additionally, another unique aspect of this case is that it is one of the only instances where the defendant pleaded guilty before the ICC. It only took eight days from the initial issuing of his warrant to Ahmad Al-Mahdi’s surrender, which occurred on September 26, 2015. The authorities of Niger are responsible for surrendering him to the ICC and transferring him to The Hague. The trial lasted from August 22 to the 24 of 2016, where Ahmad Al-Mahdi pleaded guilty. The final verdict was reached in September which determined his unanimous guilt as a co-perpetrator in the alleged war crime and he was sentenced to nine years imprisonment (minus the time he has already spent in detention since his arrest in 2015). This conviction was celebrated by many within the community of Mali as progress made towards ending impunity for attacks on heritage and cultural cleansing. However, some society members also criticize the Court for failing to prosecute other crimes, like rape and murder, which also occurred during the 2012 Mali conflict.