The defence of Malian Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud is set to continue presenting its witnesses on Tuesday, August 23, 2022, when the case resumes after the International Criminal Court’s summer judicial recess.
Witness D-0240 is expected to testify about developments in the north of Mali and Timbuktu before 2012, the role of traditional forms of justice, and the witness’s presence in Timbuktu for a part of 2012 as well as the witness’s alleged interaction with the groups.
The case took a break on July 15, 2022, after 11 witnesses had testified since the defence made its opening statement before Trial Chamber X on May 9, 2022.
The witnesses told the court that Ansar Eddine, a local Islamic group that has been accused of serious violations amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity, saved them, protected them, and helped them, and that things would have been worse for them if the group had not intervened.
Al Hassan is alleged to have committed the crimes he is accused of in Timbuktu between April 2012 and January 2013, when the Malian city was occupied and ruled by radical Islamist groups. Between April 2012 and January 2013, he was the leader of the Islamic police set up by Ansar Eddine and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. The city fell to a coalition of Tuareg rebels and Islamist militant factions 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 demolishing historic installations, including Islamic world heritage sites.
During the break, the court instructed the defence to file a revised tentative witness schedule by Friday, August 5, 2022. The court expressed concern about the original schedule, reminding the parties of its previous directions that they should present their evidence in an efficient manner so as to wisely use the time allocated.
The judges urged the defence to avoid gaps in the hearings and ensure that any gaps and last-minute cancellations are kept to the minimum.
“The defence must be prepared to start with the subsequent witness immediately after the conclusion of a witness’s testimony regardless of the proposed dates specified in the defence witness schedule,” said Trial Chamber X’s judges Antoine Kezia Mbe-Mindua (presiding), Tomoko Akane, and Kimberly Prost.
The judges also asked the defence to first verify the availability of witnesses before scheduling them in the list, especially if they appear in the middle of the programme.
The defence was also instructed that, “in close consultation with the VWU – Victims and Witnesses Unit”, to identify alternative witnesses to ensure there are no unnecessary delays due to last-minute cancellations or early conclusion of a witness’s testimony.
The judges also told the defence and the prosecution to reassess the time they have allocated the witnesses before the court to avoid postponements and delays.
They expressed concern that the defence had failed to comply with their order to file an updated version of its list of witnesses by July 4, 2022.
The court reminded the parties and participants that its orders are binding and must be implemented without exception, unless modified, and instructed them to act with diligence in the future.
“Should the parties or participants consider it impossible to comply with any orders, it is incumbent on them to resort to the appropriate remedies,” said the chamber.
Al Hassan is facing 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 in Timbuktu, Mali.
His defence is led by Melinda Taylor. During her opening statement, she told the court that her client happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and had the wrong ethnicity.
“He was religious but not an extremist,” she further stated, adding that Al Hassan played no role in the decision to set up an Islamic tribunal in Timbuktu. “As a member of the Islamic police, he was obliged to respect and execute the decisions of the Islamic tribunal.”
She said the defence will demonstrate there was no organised plan to commit assault or mistreat the local population.
She argued that on one side her client faced the risk of torture and ethnic cleansing by the Malian army and on the other, death or severe harm for disobeying Al Qaeda emirs.
“His role in the Islamic police must be viewed in the light of the totality of circumstances that existed in 2012,” Taylor said, adding that he is “…a simple man, a petit poisson …in an impossible situation”.
The charges of the destruction of historic and religious buildings are similar to the ones former Mali Islamist rebel leader Ahmed Al Faqi Al Mahdi faced. Al Mahdi pleaded guilty before the ICC in 2016 to destroying cultural sites and was sentenced to nine years in prison. He is the first suspect to plead guilty before the ICC and is expected to leave prison early – in September 2022 – after the judges reduced his sentence by two years.
Then ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda formally opened an investigation on January 16, 2013, into alleged crimes committed on the territory of Mali since January 2012. The decision was a result of a preliminary examination that the Office of the Prosecutor had been conducting since July 2012.
Al Hassan’s trial opened on July 14-15, 2020 and included the opening statement of the Prosecutor. It resumed on September 8, 2020, when the prosecution started to present its evidence and call the first of its 52 oral witnesses.
On February 8, 2022, the legal representatives of the victims made their opening statement and later called two witnesses.
Al Hassan 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.