Museum Security Network

Timbuktu destruction: landmark ruling awards millions to Malians

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has ordered Malian radical Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi to pay €2.7m in reparations for his role in the destruction of the UNESCO world heritage site in Timbuktu in 2012.

This is the first time the court has demanded reparations for the destruction of cultural property. The ruling sends a strong message that perpetrators who target cultural heritage can be held to account.

Al Mahdi was one of the leading perpetrators in the Islamic militant group Ansar Dine. The group attacked Timbuktu in 2012, taking control of the area.

Initially, Ansar Dine banned people in the region from visiting the mausoleums of their ancestors and the saints, as this was seen as an idolatrous and superstitious practice. When visits continued, the group decided to destroy the mausoleums. The aim was partially to stop the practice of worshipping there, but also to defy the international designation of Timbuktu as a world heritage site.

A total of 14 mausoleums were destroyed along with residents’ tombs. The Sidi Yahya mosque door, which some in the area believed would remain closed until the end of days, was also destroyed.

In September 2015, Al Mahdi was arrested in Niger and transferred to the ICC in the Netherlands. In August 2016, he plead guilty to the charge of destruction of cultural property as a war crime, in exchange for a nine-year sentence. Al Mahdi has apologised for his role in the destruction of the world heritage site in Timbuktu, but the ICC requires convicted people to make reparations to the victims affected by their crimes – hence the heavy fine.


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