An Islamist fighter has pleaded guilty in the Hague for destroying parts of the fabled West African trading city of Timbuktu, in the International Criminal Court’s first case based on the destruction of cultural artifacts.
Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi has admitted today (Aug 22) to razing all but two of the city’s 16 mausoleums as well as a mosque dating back to 1400 during a raid by Islamist radicals in 2012. Ahmad told the tribunal in the Netherlands that he regretted “the damage [his] actions have caused.”
In March, Ahmad was charged for “war crimes of intentionally directing attacks against historic monuments and buildings dedicated to religion,” according to the court. “Deliberate attacks on cultural property have become actual weapons of war,” ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said during proceedings today.
The case also marks the first time an ICC defendant has pleaded guilty. The trial, likely to be over within a week because of Ahmad’s guilty plea, should lead to one of the ICC prosecutors’ few wins.
Of more than 30 indictments at the ICC, only three defendants have been convicted—Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, Germain Katanga, and most recentlyJean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, former politicians and rebel leaders from Democratic Republic of Congo. The ICC’s inconsistent track record has invited accusations that the court’s limited authority renders it ineffective.