Judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) convicted the leader of an Islamist militia group in Mali. After Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi pleaded guilty to the destruction of nine ancient buildings in the city of Timbuktu in August, he was sentenced this week to nine years of imprisonment. The destruction of buildings such as mosques and churches is a war crime.

The judges said that the targeted shrines, nine of which were Unesco world heritage sites, were not only religious buildings, but also had a symbolic and emotional value for the inhabitants of Timbuktu.

No prosecution of sexual violence crimes

However, observers criticized that the ICC did not prosecute other crimes in Mali such as sexual violence. Amnesty International said although the ICC’s preliminary investigation found that there was a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes including murder, rape and torture had been committed in Mali since 2012 by different actors, the court did not follow up and prosecute these crimes. According to Human Rights Watch and other organizations, widespread sexual violence, including rape, was committed when Timbuktu was occupied. Al-Mahdi was a member of the Ansar Dine Islamist group and was appointed head of the moral police.

Local groups have collected evidence which they say shows that members of the Islamic police – particularly the moral police under the command of Al-Mahdi – committed serious crimes. In March 2015 their umbrella group FIDH lodged a complaint with Malian authorities on behalf of 33 victims in Timbuktu against Al-Mahdi and 14 other persons for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including sexual and gender-based crimes, such as rape and sexual slavery. So far, however, nothing has come of it.

“It’s urgent for the Malian authorities to make greater efforts to prosecute”

Since their voices have not been heard, Malian human rights groups continue to call for additional investigations. “It is urgent for the Malian authorities to make greater efforts to prosecute the perpetrators of crimes against civilians, and particularly crimes of sexual violence,“ said Bakaray Camara of the local organization AMDH.

At the ICC, individual victims have the possibility to receive reparations. However, only those persons are eligible for financial compensation who were victims of crimes an accused was convicted of. Since sexual violence was not part of the trial and there was no conviction for these crimes, these victims will not receive reparations.

Importance of justice and accountability

The Mukwege Foundation believes that justice and accountability is one pillar in the fight against the use of rape and sexual violence in conflicts. We support initiatives that improve the enforcement of laws and the access to justice for victims. The voices of survivors need to be heard in order to achieve both individual healing and a peaceful society.

Learn more about our strategies and the importance of justice and accountability.

Read the ICC press release here.


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