ICC opens trial against Mali’s Al Hassan over Timbuktu destruction

Felicity Salina, International Law Officer

The trial of Timbuktu’s Islamic former Police Chief, Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud, officially begun last Tuesday, the 14th of July, in The Hague. Al Hassan faces 13 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Al Hassan is believed to be a key person in the Ansar Dine, a militant group linked to al-Qaeda, which occupied Timbuktu in 2012. He is also suspected to be involved in one of the Islamist groups to exploit an ethnic Tuareg uprising to take over cities in northern Mali. Al Hassan was transferred to the International Criminal Court (‘ICC’) by Malian authorities in March 2018, following the French-assisted liberation of Timbuktu from jihadists.

ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, asserted that there exist “substantial grounds” to convict against Al Hassan for “crimes against humanity … torture, rape, sexual slavery [and] other inhumane acts including, inter alia, forced marriages, persecution and war crimes”. Meanwhile, Al Hassan’s Defence argued that he was not mentally fit to stand trial, stating that he suffers from post-traumatic stress. This mental state, the Defence claimed, has compromised his ability to analyze the evidence against him and to prepare an adequate defence. He refused to enter a plea.

Al Hassan is the second Malian jihadist to be tried by the ICC over the destruction of Timbuktu religious and cultural sites. In 2016, the ICC delivered a judgement in its first ever case concerning the destruction of cultural property, sentencing Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi to nine years in prison for directing attacks on a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Read the ICC Press Release regarding the trial here: https://www.icc-cpi.int/Pages/item.aspx?name=pr1531