ICC: the demolition of Timbuktu’s cultural sites is war-crime

For the first time since its establishment, the International Criminal Court (ICC) is prosecuting an accused for the destruction of historic religious buildings and monuments, recognized as war crimes committed during the recent conflict in northern Mali.

The Sankore Mosque in Timbuktu, Mali. Source: UNESCO


To the stand Ahmad al-Mahdi al-Faqi, alias Abu Tourab, former head of the Hisbah, the religious police of the jihadist group Ansar Eddine, guilty of committing war crimes during the occupation of the city of Timbuktu, attacking and destroying historical monuments and Religious buildings between June 30 and July 10, 2012.
Specifically, the extremist would organize the destruction of the Sidi Yahya mosque and nine mausoleums containing the revered Sufi saints’ remains. All works built between the thirteenth and seventeenth century and declared World Heritage by UNESCO.
In the charges hearing of March 1, the Hague Court has determined that al-Faqi is due appear before Pre-Trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The jihadi leader had appeared for the first time before the ICC on 30 September, after which in utmost discretion the chief prosecutor of the Court, the Gambian Fatou Bensouda, had requested the extradition from Niger.

The destruction of the Timbuktu manuscripts

During the ten-month stay in Timbuktu, the jihadists of Ansar Eddine, in addition to the mausoleums and the Sidi Yahya mosque, they also destroyed about four thousand of the more than one hundred thousand manuscripts kept in the 24 public libraries in the city, several of which date back to the thirteenth century.
The devastating fury of the Islamists like to echo the army of occupation of Sadian Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur, who, in 1591, under the leadership of Spanish general Judar Pasha, conquered Timbuktu and killed or deported most of the scholars of ancient caravan city.

The Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict

The legal bases of the ongoing process reside in a convention signed in 1954 by 125 countries, protecting monuments, archaeological sites, works of art, manuscripts and scientific collections.
However, the United States, Russia and much of the Middle East countries do not adhere to the Court, which consequently has no jurisdiction over them. Moreover, the decision of the chief prosecutor of the Hague Court to prosecute al-Faqi, could give way to controversy among African states, taking into account the fact that many of the criminals who in recent history have been stained the horrendous crime of destruction of artistic heritage, have not been referred to the ICC.
No leader of the Taliban or al-Qaeda was never blamed for the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas, shattered with dynamite in 2001 in Afghanistan. Nor, no leader of the Khmer Rouge ended up on trial for looting of Hindu temples of Cambodia. Nor the leaders of the Islamic state were indicted for destroying the Assyrian sculptures and Parthian Hatra and Nineveh, preserved in Iraqi archaeological museum in Mosul, or for having destroyed the Roman ruins of Palmyra.

The resentment of African leaders to the ICC

There is indeed a growing resentment among many African leaders to the ICC, convinced that the Court has a prejudice towards their countries because the people of all arrest warrants currently in force, inclusive that of the Sudanese President Omar al Bashir, concern of Africans. It is therefore understandable that this food suspects in a continent where the wounds of colonialism are still open.
The ICC has sometimes made mistakes, like sue without being able to obtain the necessary evidence against the President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, for supposed crimes committed after the presidential elections of December 2007.
But other Africans who currently are under the Hague process are accused of of war crimes and crimes against humanity related to alleged ethnic massacres, rapes, torture, mutilation, looting and recruitment of child soldiers.
These included former Vice-President of the Democratic Republic of Congo Jean-Pierre Bemba, former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo and the Congolese warlord Jean Bosco Ntaganda. Without forgetting, Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, which has massacred tens of thousands of innocent people in northern Uganda and neighboring countries, on whose head hangs from 11 years an incrimination of the ICC for crimes against humanity, but the ‘bloodthirsty prophet’ has so far managed to avoid capture.
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