Reparations Before The International Criminal Court: Who Are The Victims of Cultural Heritage Destructions and How Should Their Harm Be Addressed?

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi (Mr. Al Mahdi) was brought to the International Criminal Court to stand trial for his involvement in the destruction of several historical and religious sites in Timbuktu (Mali) during an armed conflict in 2012. This was the first time in the history of international criminal justice that an individual was prosecuted for the destruction of cultural heritage alone.

Following his guilty plea and conviction in 2016, the case moved on to the reparations phase where the focus was that of redressing the harm caused to victims. Therein, the unprecedented nature of the Al Mahdi case led to an equally unprecedented question: who are the victims of cultural heritage destruction?

Drawing upon her personal involvement in the case as a Court-appointed expert, Dr. Marina Lostal, Senior Lecturer at the University of Essex, has published an article explaining how this question was resolved and the practical challenges it posed during the implementation phase.

The challenges encountered are labeled as ‘monumental’ because they had one thing in common: the amount of theoretical thinking and reflection that they deserved was inversely proportionate to the urgency with which they had to be addressed and the precedent they would establish. To surmount this, drawing from the author’s background, the Trust Fund for Victims turned to academia and consulted with scholars.

The article focuses on three of such challenges:

(i) whether ‘unborn children’ should be included in the pool of victims given that cultural heritage is meant to be preserved for the benefit of future generations;

(ii) what place women ought to occupy in the implementation of reparations, despite the customary practices of side-lining them; and

(iii) the decision of whether to memorialize events surrounding the crime.

On the latter point, the article introduces the concept of ‘restorative agency’, a working principle that was adopted in the context of memorialization measures to ensure that victims are given a platform to decide, not a decision.

Lastly, Dr. Lostal’s article provides a framework to demonstrate the level of complexity involved in the implementation of any Court-ordered reparations and reveals some of the work of the Trust Fund for Victims, one of the Court’s least comprehended creations.


Article full citation: Marina Lostal, Implementing Reparations in the Al Mahdi Case: A Story of Monumental Challenges in Timbuktu, Journal of International Criminal Justice, Volume 19, Issue 4, September 2021, pp. 831–853, https://doi.org/10.1093/jicj/mqab064

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