The International Criminal Court (ICC) unanimously on Wednesday rejected an appeal by Al Hassan, an Islamic militant from Mali, that his charges were not severe enough to justify action in the ICC. According to a judgment summary, the court found that there was sufficient initial validity for the charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity brought against Al Hassan in the pre-trial chamber.
Al Hassan faces several serious charges in the court arising from his connections to the Islamic militant organizations Ansar Eddine, al Qaeda and the amalgamated Islamic Maghreb movement, which all took part in systematic attacks against the civilian population of Timbuktu and the surrounding region. These specific attacks took place between 2012-2013 and focused on destabilizing the current government in the hope of establishing an Islamic theocracy. The ICC initially took custody of Al Hassan in April 2018.
Al Hassan is facing the two umbrella charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes. The crimes against humanity charges include allegations of “Torture, persecution, rape, sexual slavery, and other inhumane acts, including, inter alia, forced marriages.” The charges of war crimes including allegations of “Torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity,” rape, sexual slavery, passing sentence without due process, and intentionally directing attacks against buildings of religious and historical significance.
Al Hassan raised his appeal on two connected issues. First, he argued that the pre-trial court had adopted “an overly broad and erroneous definition of the case that ‘artificially inflated the gravity of the case on the basis of irrelevant considerations.'” Second, he argued that the “Pre-Trial Chamber’s exercise of discretion in its assessment of the gravity of the case based on a purported failure to attribute sufficient weight to the nature of his individual conduct.” Essentially, he asserted that the court had overblown both the gravity of the charges as well as his connection to them and that under such a finding the ICC should not be the court to hear the case.
The ICC’s stipulation for a determination of gravity is found in article 17(1)(d) of the Rome Statute: Issues of admissibility. This rule is applied on a case by case basis to the facts of each case without a clear statutory baseline for gravity. The driving impetus behind the rule is to exclude the rare cases where “conduct that technically fulfils all the elements of a crime under the Court’s jurisdiction is nevertheless of marginal gravity only” and to thereby limit the court from hearing trivial cases.
The court found that the war crimes included nearly 100 victims as well as 10 protected buildings and that the crimes against humanity affected an entire region of people. In light of these findings, the court ruled that the case was of sufficient gravity to be heard in the ICC. The court also rejected the second appeal on the grounds that their purview is not limited to actual participation and includes “other modes of criminal liability such as complicity, inducement, etc (see articles 25(3)(b) to (d) of the Statute), which do not require this factor of an essential contribution.”
As a result of this ruling the trial is scheduled to begin on July 14.