The confirmation of charges hearing for Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud, the Malian national accused of religious and gender‑based persecution, has been postponed to May 2019.
A judge at the International Criminal Court (ICC) said it was necessary to postpone the hearing, which had been scheduled for September 24, to enable the prosecution to complete necessary arrangements, such as instituting protective measures for witnesses, disclosing evidence to the defense, and translating relevant documents into Arabic, the language the accused understands best.
Judge Péter Kovács, the Single Judge of Pre-Trial Chamber I, noted in the July 20 ruling that a lengthy delay was required to ensure that the necessary conditions for the confirmation hearing were met. Earlier this month, Judge Kovács said difficulties stemming from the challenging security situation in Mali necessitated considering a possible postponement of the hearing.
The judge then asked the prosecution to indicate the dates by which it expected to have made requests for protective measures for witnesses, especially those whose identity it was seeking authorization not to disclose to the defense, and to state difficulties it faced in protecting witnesses. The prosecution also had to indicate when it would finalize transcripts of witness testimonies and translations of witness statements it intended to use for the confirmation hearing.
Both the defense and the prosecution responded that it would not be possible to conduct the hearing in September as scheduled. Yasser Hassan, who represents Al Hassan, supported a “substantial postponement,” citing late disclosure of prosecution evidence and limited notice to the accused of the details of the charges he faces.
According to Hassan, the first batch of evidentiary material was disclosed to the defense on July 6, 2018. It contained more than 1,300 documents of incriminating material but without an indication of their context or relevance to the charges. He added that the prosecution had not fixed a calendar for disclosure, and it was unclear how much more material would be disclosed to the defense.
Al Hassan, 40, was transferred to the ICC detention center on March 31 of this year, four days after judges issued a warrant for his arrest. He made his initial appearance before an ICC judge on April 4 to confirm his identity and to ascertain that he understood the charges against him.
The prosecution claims that, as head of the Islamic Police in the Ansar Eddine militia, Al Hassan took part in the 2012 destruction of mausoleums of Muslim saints in Timbuktu, Mali. 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.
At the time the alleged crimes were committed, the Ansar Eddine militia, together with another armed group known as Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), attempted to impose sharia law in parts of Mali that they controlled.
According to the prosecution, continuing insecurity in the West African country has made it difficult to complete collecting witness testimonies and instituting protective measures for witnesses. Accordingly, on July 10, the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) said it was necessary to postpone the hearing to the end of the first half of 2019.
The prosecution admitted that it had delayed disclosing evidence to the defense. It cited the large amount of evidence and difficulties in providing protective measures to witnesses, yet such measures were obligatory before their identities were communicated. Furthermore, the OTP said that it would not be able to produce the Document Confirming Charges (DCC), or translate the Al Hassan arrest warrant and other evidentiary material into Arabic before April 2019.