On Wednesday, April 4, Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud, the Malian national accused of religious and gender‑based persecution, made his initial appearance before a pre-trial judge of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The main purpose of the appearance, which was held at the seat of the court in The Hague, was to confirm Al Hassan’s identity and to ascertain that he understands the charges against him.
Al Hassan, 40, was transferred to the ICC detention center on March 31, 2018, four days after judges issued a warrant for his arrest. Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda praised the West African country of Mali – a member of the ICC – for cooperating with the court by swiftly surrendering the accused.
The charges against Al Hassan arise from his work with the Islamic court of the Ansar Eddine militia, which controlled the town of Timbuktu, Mali in 2012 and, together with another armed group known as Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), attempted to impose sharia law in Mali. The prosecution claims that, as head of the Islamic Police in the Ansar Eddine, Al Hassan took part in destroying mausoleums of Muslim saints in Timbuktu.
Furthermore, he is alleged to have participated in enforcing a policy of forced marriages that victimized the female inhabitants of Timbuktu and led to repeated rapes and the sexual enslavement of women and girls.
Upon confirming his identify, Marc Perrin de Brichambaut, the Single Judge of Pre-Trial Chamber I, informed the accused of the charges against him and asked whether he understood them. Al Hassan replied that he understood the charges. The charges include the crimes against humanity of torture; rape and sexual slavery; persecution of the inhabitants of Timbuktu on religious and gender grounds; and other inhumane acts.
He also faces the war crimes of rape and sexual slavery; violence to persons and outrages upon personal dignity; attacks intentionally directed against buildings dedicated to religion and historic monuments; and the passing of sentences without previous judgement pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all judicial guarantees that are generally recognized as indispensable. The alleged crimes were committed between April 2012 and January 2013.
Al Hassan becomes the second person to face charges at the ICC as a result of events in Mali. Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, another member of Ansar Eddine who was involved in the occupation of Timbuktu in 2012, had an arrest warrant issued against him on September 18, 2015. Eight days later he was surrendered to the ICC by the authorities of Niger and was transferred to the court’s detention center in the Netherlands.
Al Mahdi pleaded guilty and was convicted of the destruction or partial destruction of nine historic buildings and the door of a mosque in northern Mali. Judges determined that Al Mahdi was involved in planning the destruction and had participated in the attack on centuries-old buildings while he was the leader of the morality brigade, or Hisbah, one of four institutions set up by Ansar Eddine and AQIM when they controlled Timbuktu.
Besides the nine-year prison sentence handed down to him, in August 2017, Trial Chamber VIII ordered Al Mahdi to pay €2.7 million in collective and individual reparations.
During today’s hearing, Al Hassan was represented by Yasser Hassan, a court-appointed lawyer. At one point, the hearing went into private session at the request of Hassan in order to discuss what he considered “really serious issues.” It is unknown at this time what those issues were.
The hearing concluded with Judge de Brichambaut setting September 24, 2018 as the provisional date for the start of the confirmation of charges hearing to determine whether or not the case can proceed to trial.