International Court Paves Way for Trial of Mali War Crimes Suspect

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) – The International Criminal Court on Wednesday rejected an appeal from an accused Islamic militant who argued his charges aren’t serious enough to justify a trial.

“The number of victims, while relevant, [is] not determinative of the gravity of a given case,” said Judge Luz del Carmen Ibáñez Carranza, the sole judge at Wednesday’s hearing.

Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz sits for his initial appearance before the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, in April 2018. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, Pool)

The legal team for Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz had argued that the torture and rape he is accused of committing isn’t significant enough to warrant charges at the world’s global court for atrocity crimes.

The Hague-based court was established by the Rome Statute in 2002 to prosecute genocide and crimes against humanity that take place in a member state or are committed by a member state. It can also take up a case that is referred to it by the United Nations Security Council.

According to the Rome Statute, cases brought before the ICC must have “sufficient gravity” to warrant prosecution.

Al Hassan is charged with being the enforcer of a separatist Muslim group that banned music, forced women to wear headscarves and destroyed non-Muslim religious sites in the western African country of Mali. Large parts of the country fell to Islamic separatist groups in 2012 following a coup.

As the alleged de facto leader of Timbuktu’s police force, prosecutors say Al Hassan is responsible for the torture, rape and sexual slavery of citizens in the city between April 2012 and January 2013.

He is one of the first people to be brought before the court on gender-related charges.

“The targeting and persecution of women was such that it became emblematic of the physical and moral violence inflicted on all residents of Timbuktu,” ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in her opening statements last July.

The ICC decided to move forward with proceedings in October. Wednesday’s ruling from the bench paves the way for Al Hassan’s trial to officially get underway on July 14.

Beyond arguing that his alleged crimes were not significant enough, Al Hassan’s lawyers further argued that he was a minor player in the year-long Mali rebellion.

“Instead of trawling for small fry, we ask you to release this sardine back into the sea,” lead defense counsel Melinda Taylor had argued before the ICC’s pretrial chamber.

But that argument was also dismissed by the court’s appeals chamber on Wednesday.

“The statute recognizes also other modes of criminal liability such as complicity, inducement, etc.,” Judge Ibáñez Carranza said.

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