It wasn’t massacres or rapes or any violent atrocity that touched off the widest recent US media coverage of the International Criminal Court (ICC). It was the destruction of historic, cultural and religious sites in Timbuktu, Mali.
The PBS News Hour ran a substantial segment on the case complete with visuals of the trial. The Associated Press ran 11 paragraphs reprinted in at least five US newspapers across the country. The Washington Post ran both the AP story and an article of its own accompanied by photographs of the courtroom and of destruction scenes and so did the New York Times with analysis of the Mali case along with Palmyra and the Buddhist statues in Afghanistan. An article on the case as a story on culture appeared in Fusion online magazine. Justice and redress for victims was the focus of a column in The Huffington Post. Three straight news articles and programs with photographs of the accused appeared in the Voice of America.
He is Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, a former teacher who became a jihadist with Ansar Dine, a group linked to al-Qaeda. In his forties and the father of eight, Mahdi had a reputation as an Islamic scholar and an interpreter of shariah, Islamic law. After initial reluctance, he accepted and vigorously carried out an assignment to lead and direct the destruction of the sites.
Timbuktu, at the crossroads of traditional caravan routes, has for centuries been a center of Islamic scholarship and worship. UNESCO’s designation of these libraries and saints’ tombs as a World Heritage Site further confirmed the ICC’s conclusion that their destruction was a war crime that met the Court’s high standards of extreme seriousness. For the jihadists, these buildings represent a tradition in the historic Islamic community that they oppose.
When confronted with this charge and the prospect of 30 years in prison, he confessed and also urged Muslims everywhere not to follow his example. The Court cited his confession, remorse and cooperation with the prosecution as mitigation justifying a final sentence of nine years.
Why all this American media attention to this man and his bloodless crime? Among the Court’s cases of vile and disgusting atrocities, only the Darfur massacres of Sudan’s President Bashir and the abductions and recruitment of child soldiers by Joseph Kony of the Lord’s Resistance Army have had comparable coverage.
There are several answers. One starts with the man himself. We can react to a Congolese warlord, no matter how solemn and groomed he may be in the courtroom, only with horror and withdrawal. It is much easier to recognize as another human being the slight, scholarly and remorseful al-Mahdi. Similarly, photographs of mutilated victims, dead bodies, emaciated prisoners are sometimes too much to bear in mind, while men with sledgehammers and bulldozers knocking down buildings are much easier to envision and remember. Moreover, the uniqueness of such a case actually going to trial has brought strong positive attention to the Court. At the same time, the terrorism of al Qaeda and ISIS continue to be front-page news.
So this case is likely to help the ICC, and our advocacy for it, as much or more than its trials of acts of slaughter and genocide. In the United States this case will appeal to preservationists and may serve as a model for domestic cases. More generally, it will be another of the cases that have been growing the legitimacy and credibility of the Court by engaging the awareness and approval of the American public and government.
Written by John Washburn
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
Tuesday, August 02, 2016
Advocacy for the ICC in the US and US Lawyers at the Court
At the International Criminal Court, there are 656 lawyers enrolled to practice. Of them, 58 are American lawyers. At AMICC, we researched each individual American lawyer to determine if these attorneys could, individually or collectively, contribute to our advocacy. Although we could not find extensive information on every individual, we have analyzed all available information on each American attorney we could locate. An overwhelming majority of the 58 American attorneys are experts in criminal defense law and procedure. These attorneys have been involved with criminal defense and civil litigation, and are specialists in these fields. However, although they specialize in criminal defense, their expertise extends to other subjects.
From AMICC’s research, we have determined that a majority of the 58 attorneys work in private practice. We discovered only a small number of attorneys who work in major law firms. Of those attorneys who do work in such firms, we identified a few senior lawyers and partners in them. After researching each attorney and his or her type of practice, AMICC has identified 38 criminal defense firms with American lawyers enrolled at the ICC.
The number of American lawyers enrolled to practice at the ICC is a meaningful figure. Although the United States has still not ratified the Rome Statute, there is a significant number of American attorneys who have wanted to be enrolled at the Court. While an attorney’s precise reasons for enrolling at the Court are not clear, it is apparent that they relate to his or her preliminary practice of criminal defense law.
Although each attorney’s reason to enroll at the Court may vary, we believe these attorneys have good reasons to advocate for the Court in the US to achieve a growing and more extensive relationship with the ICC. Furthermore, AMICC believes it is possible to bring these 58 American attorneys together to promote the ICC in the United States because each lawyer made the decision to enroll at the International Criminal Court. We will try to do this both creating an informal group and by approaching the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL). We will begin the approach by consulting with enrolled attorneys who are also NACDL members.
Written by Julia Keenan
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Palmyra is dynamited. The giant Buddhas of Bamiyan are shot to pieces. Many other historic, cultural and religious sites have been similarly destroyed. Insurgents make rubble of these precious, beautiful, irreplaceable places to parade their ideology and brand of religion. Now the International Criminal Court is considering confirming war crime charges against a leader in destroying historic, cultural and religious sites in Timbuktu, an ancient city in Mali. The Court heard the charges on March 1 and has until the end of April to decide to dismiss or confirm them. Confirmation will be rapidly followed by trial
Although for many Westerners Timbuktu is still the stereotype of a remote and exotic place, for years it was a center for trade whose profits bought libraries of early Islamic documents and treatises and built the sites. Those mausoleums of saints and a mosque, built in the 13th to the 17th centuries, have attracted pilgrims from across the Muslim world ever since. Their structures and beauty have drawn students of architecture and art worldwide. These buildings and the libraries also made the city a center for scholars of Islamic culture and religion. Timbuktu has advanced human understanding of religion and of the creation of beauty. UNESCO has rightly declared it a World Heritage Site.
The suspect is Ahmad Al Mahdi al Faqi. Frequently described as a radical or extremist Islamist, he is alleged to have been a senior member of the jihadi group which occupied Timbuktu in 2012 and to have supervised for it then the destruction of the mausoleums and mosque. He is the Court’s first alleged Islamist defendant and the first to be charged only for the destruction of cultural, historic and religious sites. This charge has its own paragraph in the Court’s Rome Statute in a section on war crimes committed during internal conflicts. It therefore does not have to be charged in association with other crimes and need not involve loss of life or occur in an international war.
A successful conviction of al Faqi and the decision declaring it would be an important precedent and extension of the Court’s reach. Insurgents’ plans to destroy the historic, cultural and religious buildings treasured by their opponents will not seem quite so safe and free of consequences. Majority groups will have to think twice before annihilating the physical heritage of the cultures, religions and histories of minorities such as indigenous peoples. The Office of the Prosecutor is preparing a policy paper to guide similar such prosecutions in the future. A new dimension in the work and identity of the Court is opening, extending its appeal to potential new supporters and members..
AMICC now resumes its blog postings. As before, we will cover events and issues about the ICC of general significance to Americans interested in the Court and the US relationship with it.interested in the Court and the US relationship with it.
Written by John Washburn