Mali: UN hails war crimes trial for suspect in destruction of historic monuments

26 September 2015

The United Nations body entrusted with safeguarding the world’s cultural heritage today welcomed the transfer to the International Criminal Court (ICC) of an alleged extremist for trial on charges of destroying religious and historical monuments in Timbuktu, Mali.

Extremists inflicted significant damage to Timbuktu’s cultural heritage in 2012 and 2013, including the destruction 14 out of the 16 mausoleums with World Heritage status, when they overran northern Mali.

The suspect was transferred from neighbouring Niger to the ICC, located in The Hague, under the accusation of the war crime of direct attacks against buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science or charitable purposes, and historic monuments. He is the first person to be handed over on such a charge.

“This is the first such case and it breaks new ground for the protection of humanity’s shared cultural heritage and values," Irina Bokova, Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said in a statement today.

"The cultural heritage of Mali belongs to all humanity. It is vital that the criminals be brought to justice. This is justice for Mali, the identities and history of its people – this is justice for all women and men everywhere," she added.

"I commend Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and the authorities of Mali and Niger for transferring the first suspect to the ICC accused of the war crime of the intentional destruction of historic monuments and buildings in Timbuktu, Mali.”

UNESCO led a global movement decrying the ?destruction in the age-old city on the southern edge of the desert and helped with the Government and local community to rebuild and restore the mausoleums.

"UNESCO kept its promise to rebuild the mausoleums of Timbuktu," Ms. Bokova said after a visit to Mali in July.

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Amid surging violence in surrounding Northern Mali, Timbuktu heritage sites rebuilt – UN

The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) praised the people of Timbuktu for reconstructing cultural heritage sites destroyed by armed groups, saying “those who wanted to erase the legacy of the past have failed,” even as the UN refugee agency reported a surge of fighting in northern Mali that has forced hundreds of people across the border into Mauritania.