- Title: UNESCO chief welcomes "justice" in ICC ruling over Timbuktu destruction
- Date: 27th September 2016
- Summary: TIMBUKTU, MALI (FILE - 2012) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF AQIM MEMBERS DESTROYING MAUSOLEUMS
- Embargoed: 12th October 2016 14:01
- Keywords: UNESCO International Criminal Court Ahmad al-Faqi al Mahdi Mali Irina Bokova
- Location: TIMBUKTU, MALI AND PARIS, FRANCE
- City: TIMBUKTU, MALI AND PARIS, FRANCE
- Country: France
- Topics: Crime/Law/Justice,Judicial Process/Court Cases/Court Decisions
- Reuters ID: LVA00351CF0HZ
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text:PLEASE NOTE: THIS EDIT CONTAINS MATERIAL ORIGINALLY 4:3
UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova said on Tuesday (September 27) she felt a "sense of justice" after the International Criminal Court's sentenced of a former Islamist rebel to nine years in prison for wrecking holy shrines in Mali.
The War Crimes' judges decision against Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi is the first such case to focus on destruction of cultural heritage, which occurred during Mali's 2012 conflict.
Al-Mahdi expressed remorse for his involvement in the destruction of 10 mausoleums and religious sites in Timbuktu dating from Mali's 14th-century golden age as a trading hub and centre of Sufi Islam, a branch of the religion seen as idolatrous by some hardline Muslim groups.
The sites, nine of them on the UNESCO World Heritage list, "had an emotional and symbolic meaning for the residents of Timbuktu", the panel of judges at The Hague said.
"My first feeling of course is of justice. It is that impunity should not be the answer to the destruction of cultural heritage. And I would emphasise cultural heritage that belongs to the whole of humanity, because we are speaking about heritage that belongs to the list of world heritage sites. On the other side, I think it is justice also for the local people, for the local communities in Timbuktu," Bokova said.
Such acts have rarely been prosecuted despite being illegal under international law, but have attracted increasing international outrage after the Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan Buddha statues in Afghanistan in 2001 and, more recently, Islamic State jihadists smashed monuments in the Syrian city of Palmyra.
Those actions do not fall under the jurisdiction of the ICC because it is limited to prosecuting individuals for crimes committed in member countries, and neither Syria nor Afghanistan have joined the court.
Bokova said that after several visits to the site in Timbuktu, she had seen the emotion of the attachment of the local people to the holy sites.
"I had the feeling that I'm giving back their identity. So, I think what UNESCO started, because it was us here sending a letter alerting the (International Criminal Court) Chief Prosecutor Madame Fatou Bensouda already two years ago, working with the team of our cultural colleagues, experts, the legal team. I think it's a sense of justice," she added.
The ICC has been examining events in Mali since 2012, when Tuareg rebels seized part of the north, imposing a strict interpretation of Islamic law. French and Malian troops pushed them back the following year.
During his brief trial in August al-Mahdi asked for forgiveness and said he had been swept up in an "evil wave" when al Qaeda and the Ansar Dine Islamist groups briefly seized control of the ancient sites.
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