By Andy Miles, MJIL Staff Member

On August 22, 2016, Ahmad Al-Faqi Al Madhi admitted guilt at the start of his trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Al Madhi was accused of the war crime of intentionally directing attacks against historical monuments and buildings dedicated to religion. Al Madhi is a member of Ansar Eddine, an extremist group affiliated with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The jihadist was accused of destroying nine mausoleums and one mosque in Timbuktu, Mali, between June 30 and July 11, 2012.[1]

Al Madhi’s case represented a series of firsts for the ICC: it was the court’s first guilty plea, the first case concerning Mali, the first prosecution of an accused jihadist, and perhaps most importantly, the first case to focus on the destruction of cultural heritage.[2]

The ICC found itself in turmoil in the coming months after this guilty plea, however. In Mid-October, both Burundi and South Africa decided to start their withdraw from the ICC. According to David L. Bosco, an associate professor of international studies at Indiana University who is an expert on the court, “the African Union has been a forum for anti-ICC sentiment, and countries like Kenya and Uganda may now seek to capitalize on the momentum.”[3]

It remains unclear whether these two events are related. However, what seems apparent is the African Union’s discontent with the ICC. Many African countries have seen it as a political tool of continued Western oppression.[4] Whether more individuals will be prosecuted by the ICC for destruction of cultural property remains to be seen. However, international prosecutors will have to hope to have jurisdiction over those who are guilty of these heinous acts; otherwise, the legitimacy of the ICC could be in jeopardy.

[1] Douglas Cantwell, Al-Mahdi Enters ICC’s First Guilty Plea, Admitting to Destruction of Cultural Property in Mali, American Society of Int’l L. (Nov. 8, 2016, 10:04 AM), https://www.asil.org/blogs/al-mahdi-enters-iccs-first-guilty-plea-admitting-destruction-cultural-property-mali-august-22.

[2] Id.

[3] Sewell Chan and Marlise Simmons, South Africa to Withdraw from International Criminal Court, N.Y. Times (Nov. 8, 2016, 10:08 AM), http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/22/world/africa/south-africa-international-criminal-court.html?_r=0.

[4] Id.