Transfer of cultural heritage suspect ends era of impunity

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The El Farouk monument in Timbuktu, Mali, destroyed by the extremists. Photo: MINUSMA/Sophie Ravier

The transfer to the International Criminal Court (ICC) of an alleged extremist accused of destroying religious and historical monuments in Mali has been welcomed by the UN.

It's the first time a suspect has been sent to The Hague-based court on such a charge.

Daniel Dickinson reports

The suspect, Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, is accused of allegedly committing the war crime of intentionally directing attacks against ten religious buildings and historic monuments in the ancient city of Timbuktu in Mali.

He was described by the ICC as a zealous member of the self-proclaimed Ansar Dine armed group.

The ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda said the transfer sends a strong message that those who commit crimes against cultural heritage can no longer get away with it.

"It represents an important step forward in the fight against impunity, not only in Mali, but also in the broader Sahel and the Sahara region of Africa, whose populations in recent years have been subjected to unspeakable crimes."

The UN cultural agency, UNESCO has been working to protect sites throughout Mali, including many in Timbuktu.

The city was taken over by violent extremists in 2012.

Daniel Dickinson, United Nations

Duration: 1'04"

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