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Malian Islamist Stands Trial in The Hague

The Hague, Netherlands. After finding Congolese warlord Lubanga Ngongo guilty of crimes against humanity the International Criminal Court has started the trial of Malian rebel leader Nassim Iyad Ali. The high-ranking member of the extremist Ansar Dine militia is charged with six counts of war crimes and four counts of crimes against humanity. The charges include such gruesome acts as murder, rape and torture.

Yesterday the Chamber heard the pleadings of the Prosecution and the Defense on whether or not the Court has jurisdiction to decide the case. After the accused had pleaded “not guilty of all charges” the Prosecutor started off by saying that “the world is watching what is going on in Mali”. She hinted on the fact that this case constitutes a great chance to prove again that high-ranking officials going unpunished is a thing of the past.

The Prosecution's mission statement
The Prosecution’s mission statement

The Prosecution base jurisdiction on the fact that at all times relevant to this case Mali has been a party to the Rome Statute. Furthermore, the situation in Mali had been officially referred to the Office of the Prosecution (OtP) by the Malian government. The statements made by the Office were not very comprehensive which could be interpreted as either laziness or – more likely – confidence. The Prosecutors seem to trust the Bench with recognizing the obvious.

Naturally, the highly-paid Defense team has an entirely different view on the case. While they did not contest that Mali is a party to the Rome Statute, the Counselors challenged the jurisdiction for different reasons. Firstly, the Defense argued that the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) together with Ansar Dine succeeded in creating a new state by gaining effective control over the Northern part of Mali. This would mean that the acts the accused is charged with took place in a state which is not part of the ICC system and thus the Court would not be allowed to judge on the situation.

The accused Nassim Iyad Ali (right) with his highly-paid legal team
The accused Nassim Iyad Ali (right) with his highly-paid legal team

Secondly, Counsel for the accused tried to convince the Judges that the situation underlying the case does not meet the so-called “gravity-test”. The preamble of the Rome Statute makes it clear the Court was set up so that “the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole must not go unpunished”. It is the view of the accused that the acts which he is charged with do not meet this threshold and hence do not pass the “gravity-test”. While the first argument is not entirely unfounded, it is highly doubtful whether the Court will dismiss the case on grounds of missing gravity. Because, after all, Nassim Ali is accused of systematically raping, torturing and killing people.

Lastly, Ali’s team gave a glimpse of the strategy they might choose in the merits stage of the trial. Every once in a while the Counselors mentioned that Ali was only a spiritual leader within the Islamist Ansar Dine group. According to them Ali never held a position that would give him the power to order the gruesome crimes. In the words of Counselor Florence Gypens: “Ali has been a victim of the situations.”

Soon the Counsels will get the chance to examine the first witness. The KULMUN Newswire will keep you updated on the proceedings.

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