The start of the confirmation of charges hearing for former Malian militant Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud has once again been postponed, in spite of his lawyer’s opposition to changing the date.
Péter Kovács, the Single Judge of Pre-Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC), determined that procedural delays experienced by the prosecution justified a postponement from May 6 to July 8, 2019. The delays include disclosure of the prosecution’s evidence and the identities of prosecution witnesses to the defense, as well as completion of the Document Containing the Charges (DCC) and its translation into French.
Al Hassan, who is accused of religious and gender‑based persecution, has been in the court’s custody since March 2018, and his confirmation of charges hearing had initially been scheduled for last September. He made his initial appearance before an ICC judge on April 4, 2018 to confirm his identity and to ascertain that he understood the charges against him.
In last July’s ruling postponing the confirmation date to this May, Judge Kovács said a lengthy delay was required to ensure that the necessary conditions for the hearing were met. He noted difficulties stemming from the challenging security situation in Mali.
At the time, the prosecution said continuing insecurity in the country had made it difficult to complete collecting witness testimonies and instituting protective measures for the witnesses. The prosecution admitted that it had delayed disclosing evidence to the defense, citing 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 prosecution said it would not be able to produce the DCC or translate the Al Hassan arrest warrant and other evidentiary material into Arabic, before April 2019.
In the latest ruling, the judge states that proceedings in the case have been characterized by numerous requests by the prosecutor to obtain the judge’s authorization not to disclose to the defense the identity of more than 30 witnesses. He said the prosecutor’s filings and responses by the defense had taken up a lot of time.
Accordingly, Kovács has allowed a prosecution request to file the updated DCC nearly two months later than earlier scheduled, noting that it is sometimes difficult to estimate in advance and accurately the time required for procedural questions spread over several months. Last February, the prosecution requested a postponement, as it had several applications to file. The defense opposed the prosecution’s additional time requests and the postponement of the hearing.
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 the ancient Malian city of 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.
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. In September 2016, Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, who was a senior leader in the Ansar Eddine, was convicted of the single war crime of destroying nine mausoleums and the door of a mosque in Timbuktu and sentenced him to nine years in prison in line with a guilty plea agreement negotiated between the prosecution and defense.