A Landmark Moment for the ICC: The War Crime of Cultural Destruction

On March 1 a man named Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi  made an appearance at the International Criminal court in the Hague, and in so doing earned the dubious distinction of being the first person to ever appear at the ICC for the crime of destroying cultural heritage. He is accused of ordering and participating in the destruction of centuries old mausoleums in Timbuktu, Mali. Timbuktu was taken over by Islamist extremists in 2012 in the midst of a civil war in Mali, and their puritanical vision of Islam clashed with local customs which imbued these mausoleums with religious significance.

Now, one of the people who allegedly orchestrated this destruction is sitting in a jail in the Hague, possibly awaiting trial.  This is not only a high profile case of an individual facing possible trial for the crime of destroying cultural heritage, but it is the first time that a jihadist is facing ICC prosecution.

On the line with me to discuss the facts of this case and its broader significance to the International Criminal Court and global human rights more generally is Mark Kersten. He’s a post doctoral fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.

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