UNESCO today welcomed the opening of the hearings of the case of Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague for alleged war crimes and the destruction of historical monuments and buildings of religious significance, including nine mausoleums and a mosque at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Timbuktu (Mali) in 2012.
This first trial at an international tribunal for the destruction of historic monuments and buildings sends a strong message on the determination of the international community to ensure that this type of crime is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, not only in Mali but everywhere in the World. The guilty plea and the apologies of the defendant can also open a door for reconciliation and truth for the Malian people.
The trial marks a new step in the full recognition of deliberate destruction of heritage as war crimes, after decades of efforts by UNESCO and by the international community, notably since the destruction of the Old City of Dubrovnik in Croatia and of the Old Bridge of Mostar, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which strengthened the legal basis and global awareness that no such crime should remain unpunished.
This is also a decisive step in recognizing that the protection of culture is a major peace and security issue, inseparable from the protection of human lives, for which UNESCO has advocated and worked with the Security Council of the United Nations over recent years. Attacks against cultural heritage are on the frontline of conflicts today, in a strategy of cultural cleansing where individuals are killed and persecuted on religious and cultural grounds, and cultural institutions are destroyed, including monuments, schools, places of knowledge and media professionals, in an attempt to eradicate free thinking and weaken social cohesion over the very long term. This tactic of war calls for an appropriate legal and judicial response, and we have a responsibility to create a pattern of accountability for such crimes.
UNESCO has immediately raised the alarm after the destruction of the first Mausoleum in 2012 and brought it to the attention of the Court. UNESCO remains fully mobilized in the comprehensive and fair analysis of this specific case and will spare no effort to support the work of the ICC and prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, in full respect of its mandate and competence.
UNESCO renews also its full support to the people and government of Mali, and in particular to the local communities of Timbuktu, who have shown immense courage and determination to rebuild their Heritage, with the support of the international community. UNESCO remains committed to respond to the deliberate destruction of cultural heritage by all appropriate means, in court and on the ground, to preserve cultural diversity and human rights as the lasting foundation of peace.