An associate counsel for former Malian militant leader Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud has requested to be allowed to withdraw from the case, ahead of a session which started before Trial Chamber X of the International Criminal Court on February 8, 2022.
Kirsty Sutherland said her request had been submitted with the consent of both Al Hassan and the lead counsel, Melinda Taylor, and had taken into account the continuing appointment of another associate counsel, the conclusion of the prosecution’s case, and the opportunity to afford the incoming counsel time to prepare for the defence case.
“Lead counsel has confirmed that this withdrawal will not impact defence preparations or existing deadlines in an adverse manner,” Sutherland said in her request addressed to Judge Antoine Kesia-Mbe Mindua (presiding), Judge Tomoko Akane, and Judge Kimberly Prost, and dated February 4, 2022.
Al Hassan is on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC), accused of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and persecution on the grounds of gender.
The associate counsel’s request came shortly before the legal representatives of the victims (LRV) in the case were scheduled to make their opening statement before Trial Chamber X. The hearing is scheduled to end on February 11, 2022.
This now allows the victims to present their views and concerns to the judges when their interests are affected. The victims, who had requested to make their opening statements and present their evidence after the prosecution had concluded its case, have been authorised to call two witnesses, who will appear before the judges in the duration of the current hearing.
Counsels Seydou Doumbia, Mayombo Kassongo, and Fidel Nsita Luvengika are representing 1,946 victims in the case.
Earlier, Judge Prost, acting as the single judge of Trial Chamber X, granted in-court protective measures to two witnesses in a decision dated January 28, 2022.
The LRVs had request the protective measures for both V-0001 and V-0002 in the form of pseudonyms, face and voice distortion, and the use of private/closed sessions, saying both witnesses face objective risks in light of the security situation in Mali and their particular circumstances.
Judge Prost agreed with the assessment of the victims’ representatives and the Victims and Witnesses Unit.
“… the single judge emphasises the special status of victims of crimes of sexual or gender-based violence under Article 68(1) and (2) of the Statute, who benefit from special and increased protection in proceedings before the court… In particular, the single judge considers that V-0001 … would be at risk of further community stigmatisation should their identity be revealed to the public,” she ruled.
The LRVs said the second witness, V-0002, has kept confidential her associations with the court even from certain family members and that she has grave concerns that exposing such information to the public would have a negative impact on her personal security and professional activities.
Granting the witness in-court protective measures in the form of the use of a pseudonym, facial and voice distortion, as well as use of private and/or closed sessions, the judge said: “The single judge recalls her previous determination that the identity and roles of V-0002 are to remain strictly confidential and not to be revealed to the public… Notably, the single judge considers that revealing the witness’s cooperation with the court may also have significant repercussions on her professional activities.”
Al Hassan is alleged to have committed the crimes in Timbuktu between April 2012 and January 2013, when the Malian city was occupied and ruled by radical Islamist groups. The city fell to a coalition of Tuareg rebels and Islamist militant factions, including Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and a local group, Ansar Eddine, in mid-2012. They enforced a harsh form of sharia law in areas under their control, banning music, forcing women to wear the burqa, preventing girls from attending school, and demolition historic installations, including Islamic world heritage sites.
Between April 2012 and January 2013, Al Hassan was the leader of the Islamic police set up by Ansar Eddine and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Al Hassan has been charged with 13 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, which he is alleged to have committed in his role as the leader of the Islamist police. These include five counts of sexual and gender-based crimes and one count of destruction of eight historic and religious buildings and the door of a historically significant mosque.
He was surrendered to the ICC by the Malian authorities on March 31, 2018. ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber I on September 30, 2019, unanimously, issued a confidential decision confirming the charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity brought against Al Hassan and committed him to trial. His trial started in July 2020.