ICC: Journalist testifies in Al-Hassan case
Dutch journalist Harald Doornbos testified today* in the trial of the second Malian jihadist to be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the destruction of historic religious monuments and acts of torture, rape, and sexual slavery, in a case that could turn into a landmark for the prosecution of gender-based crimes.
Doornbos arrived in Timbuktu on February 2013, shortly after the French and Malian armies liberated the city from Ansar Dine and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM), and was able to take photographs of documents left behind by the Islamic police, a Kalashnikov-toting branch of the jihadi groups, allegedly spearheaded by Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud.
“Documents are so crucial because they don’t lie” said Doornbos on securing a leaflet which depicts two women wearing a niqab and lists in both Arabic and French the strict dress code rules that the jihadists had imposed on Timbuktu’s population under the threat of beatings, floggings and imprisonment, during their reign of terror.
Following a Tuareg rebellion in the North, Ansar Dine and AQIM took over Timbuktu from April 2012 until January 2013. In a city once known as the Pearl of the Dessert due to its rich cultural history, the jihadists pulverized world cultural heritage sites and, under Al-Hassan’s leadership as the de facto Islamic police commissioner, systematically terrorized the civilian population. In an effort to implement an Islamic jihadist project that follows its own vision of Sharia, torture, rape and sexual slavery became institutionalized.
“Women had become the primary targets” said ICC prosecutor Ms. Fatou Bensouda. They were forced into marriages, confined against their will, and repeatedly raped by one or more members of the Islamic militant groups, under Al-Hassan’s charge who was always present during the infliction of corporal punishment and the execution of sentences imposed by the Islamic tribunal. “The targeting and persecution of women was such, that it became emblematic of the physical and moral violence inflicted on all residents of Timbuktu”, concluded the prosecutor.
According to the Rome Statute which identifies core international crimes, acts of sexual violence are criminalized as crimes against humanity. In the Al-Hassan case, where the defendant is charged with five counts of sexual and gender-based crimes, the underlying offense of rape could, for the first time, be successfully held to prove gender-based persecution.
In its 2014 Policy Paper on Sexual and Gender-based Crimes which specifies that “gender-based crimes are those committed against persons, whether male or female because of their sex and/or socially constructed gender roles”, the ICC acknowledges an expanded definition of gender. This definition arguably covers the forced marriages which were implemented by Al-Hassan, in accordance with the social construction of gender roles under Sharia law.
If Al-Hassan gets convicted, this case could turn into a landmark for the ICC which does not, currently, have a standing conviction for gender-based persecution because of the overturning of former Congolese military leader Jean-Pierre Bemba’s conviction.
* Sep. 8, 2020.