By Raymond M. Brown, IJP Co-Founder
ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has warned Islamic rebels who are destroying religious shrines and monuments in the Timbuktu region of Mali that they could be prosecuted by her office. Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith), a Salafi Islamist group, has been openly demolishing mausoleums and shrines of Sufi Muslim saints as it establishes hegemony in the northern part of the African nation of Mali. Its actions have prompted protests but little effective resistance by Mali’s central government, which was weakened by a recent coup.
Bensouda said this week that it is a war crime to destroy undefended civilian structures, historical monuments and buildings dedicated to religion. ICC jurisdiction would not be an issue, as Mali is a party to the Rome Treaty. The Rome Treaty prohibits the destruction of civilian property when such action is not justified by military necessity. It also prohibits destruction of buildings “dedicated to religion” under Article 8(2)(b)(ix).
Bensouda’s use of the “preventative mandate” is part of a broader verbal response to Ansar Dine’s action by continental and international leaders. Bensouda is a former West African prosecutor (the Gambia) and a Muslim. The African Union (“AU”) has also condemned Ansar Dines’ Timbuktu destruction as “criminal.” The AU and ECOWAS have pledged to assist Mali in restoring its authority in the north. However, regional and sub-regional mediation efforts with Ansar Dine and with its former Tuareg allies have produced no results and military options remain in the discussion stage.
Both the United Nations Security Council and UNESCO have focused on Ansar Dine’s actions. Earlier this year, the Mali regime and UNESCO agreed on a broad range of protections for cultural objects and structures in the north, including Mali’s accession to the 1999 Second Protocol to the Hague Convention of 1954 for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.
For a brief analysis of the implications of Ansar Dine’s actions which features the phrase “a crime against history,” see “Analysis: Timbuktu tomb destroyers pulverize Islam’s History” Plascal Fletcher, Reuters.”
To view a video of ICC Prosecutor Bensouda’s statement about the destruction of religious sites as a war crime, click here.