The Hague (AFP) – War crimes judges said Thursday that a Malian
jihadist was liable for 2.7 million euros in personal damages for
destroying Timbuktu’s fabled shrines in 2012, as they ordered
reparations in a landmark ruling.
The International Criminal Court ordered that the victims of the
razing of the fabled west African city’s historic treasures be
paid “individual, collective and symbolic” reparations.
But the judges at The Hague-based tribunal also recognised that
Ahmad Al-Faqi Al-Mahdi — jailed last September for nine years —
was penniless, saying it was now up to the Trust Fund for Victims
to decide how the outstanding amount will have to be paid.
The fund was created in 2004 by the ICC’s state parties with the
aim of addressing harms resulting from genocide, crimes of
humanity and war crimes.
It implements any reparations ordered by the court — including
financial payments — and aids victims. Funding comes from public
and private donors as well as court-ordered fines and
The fund now has until February 16 to come up with a plan how to
implement Thursday’s reparations award.
Judges further ordered the Malian state and the international
community be compensated with a symbolic amount of one euro each
for damages suffered.
‘Terror and Helplessness’
Jihadists used pickaxes and bulldozers against nine mausoleums
and the centuries-old door of the Sidi Yahya mosque, part of a
golden age of Islam after over-running northern Mali in 2012.
Timbuktu, founded by Tuareg tribes between the fifth and 12th
centuries, has been nicknamed “the city of 333 saints,” referring
to the number of Muslim sages buried there.
During a halcyon period in the 15th and 16th century, the city
was revered as a centre of Islamic learning — but for 21st
century Muslim fanatics, its moderate form of Islam was
The assault on the UNESCO world heritage site triggered global
opprobrium, but also led to a legal precedent.
Mahdi’s case was the first to come before the Hague-based ICC as
a crime of cultural destruction.
He was jailed for nine years in 2016 after he pleaded guilty to
directing attacks on the world heritage site and apologised to
the Timbuktu community.
The destruction of the shrines carried “a message of terror and
helplessness and destroyed part of humanity’s shared memory and
collective consciousness,” judge Raul Pangalangan said.
“It renders humanity unable to transmit its values and knowledge
to future generations,” he added.
Jailing Mahdi sent a strong warning that destroying cultural
heritage would not go unpunished, and reparations will aim to
“alleviate the lasting imprints” of the crime, Alina Balta at
Tilburg University’s International Victimology Institute said.
According to the court’s 1998 founding accord, the Rome Statute,
judges can determine that victims are entitled to reparations
including “restitution, compensation and rehabilitation.”
The court can also hand out an order directly against a convicted
person, demanding similar reparations.
Thursday’s award will now be closely scrutinised, given concern
about whether substantial funds can be secured, and the time it
will take to reach victims.
The security situation in northern Mali “poses serious
challenges,” the Trust Fund for Victims has warned.
“The chamber notes the information received that the security
situation in Timbuktu makes travelling there or contacting
victims difficult,” the judges said.
The reparations will only be the second such award in the history
of the court since it began work in 2002.
In March, the ICC awarded symbolic damages of $250 (212 euros) to
each of the 297 victims of former Congolese warlord Germain
Katanga, who is serving 12 years for a 2003 attack on a village.
The court estimated the damage caused in the attack at $3.7
million, and found Katanga liable for $1 million of that total —
but at the time also acknowledged he was penniless.
Mahdi was a member of Ansar Dine, one of the Al-Qaeda-linked
jihadist groups which seized territory in northern Mali before
being mostly chased out by a French-led military intervention in
The shrines have now been restored using traditional methods and
local masons, in a project financed by several countries as well