"International Criminal Court brings a cultural vandal to justice" PBS NewsHour 8/22/2016
SUMMARY: Four years ago, 16 holy tombs in Timbuktu, dating back to the 14th century, were demolished in an attack by Islamic militants. In the first-ever war crimes trial for cultural destruction, one of the men involved admitted his guilt and voiced regret at the International Criminal Court. Jeffrey Brown talks with DePaul University's Patty Gerstenblith for more on the challenges of prosecuting these crimes.
JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour): It's a first for the International Criminal Court at The Hague, a trial dealing with the destruction of cultural heritage.
It's over the deliberate wrecking in 2012 of historic earthen buildings and religious shrines in the West African nation of Mali.
Jeffrey Brown has the story. It's part of our ongoing series Culture at Risk.
JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour): Sixty holy tombs dating back to the 14th century, all reduced to rubble in a wave of violence unleashed on Timbuktu by Islamist militants four years ago.
Today, one of those responsible stood in front of the International Criminal Court and admitted his guilt.
AHMAD AL-FAQI AL-MAHDI, Former Islamist militant (through translator): I regret all the damage that my actions have caused. I regret what I have caused to my family, my community in Timbuktu, what I have caused my home nation, Mali.
JEFFREY BROWN: Prosecutors say Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi directed the destruction of nine mausoleums and damage to a mosque. He'd been recruited to lead a vice squad by a group of Islamist rebels, affiliated with al-Qaida, who seized control of Northern Mali in 2012.
AHMAD AL-FAQI AL-MAHDI (through translator): I was influenced by a group of deviant people from al-Qaida, and they were able to influence me, to carry me in their evil wave, through actions that affected the whole population.
JEFFREY BROWN: The rebels were eventually driven out by French troops in 2013. The heaps of rubble they left behind have since mostly been rebuilt with help from UNESCO.
In recent years, cultural relics across Northern Africa and the Mideast have been targeted by militant groups, most dramatically by the Islamic State at sites including the ancient cities of Palmyra, Syria, and Nimrud in Iraq. Unlike Mali, those countries are not subject to the jurisdiction of the ICC.
Mahdi, who, in the plea bargain faces 11 years in prison, today called for an end to such acts.
AHMAD AL-FAQI AL-MAHDI (through translator): I would like to give a piece of advice to Muslims all over the world, not to get involved in the same acts I got involved in, because they are not going to lead to any good to humanity.