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International Criminal Court; Mali: Preliminary Investigation Launched into Recent Violence

(July 23, 2012) On July 18, 2012, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Fatou Bensouda, stated that an inquiry is being launched into the recent violence in Mali, pursuant to a letter from the Malian government in which such an investigation was requested. (Jaclyn Belczyk, ICC Opens Preliminary Inquiry into Mali Violence, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (July 19, 2012); Press Release, ICC, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda on the Malian State Referral of the Situation in Mali Since January 2012 (July 18, 2012).)

The letter from Mali was delivered to Bensouda in person by a delegation led by the Minister of Justice, H.E. Malick Coulibaly. It stated that the courts in Mali were unable to prosecute the perpetrators of the violence, asked for an investigation by the ICC, and included documentation. The letter was the result of a May 22 Malian Cabinet decision to go to the ICC. In addition, on July 7, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Contact Group of Mali (composed of Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, and Togo) had requested that the ICC “launch the necessary enquiries in order to identify the perpetrators of these war crimes and to initiate the necessary legal proceedings against them.” (Press Release, supra.) ECOWAS is a group of 15 nations in the region, formed in 1975, with the mission of promoting economic integration. (ECOWAS in Brief, ECOWAS website (last visited July 19, 2012).)

Speaking about the situation, Bensouda noted that the ICC has been watching Mali since the violence began there in January 2012, and she said that her office would determine whether the criteria had been met for a formal investigation, as determined under the Rome Statute, the agreement that is the basis for the ICC. (Belczyk, supra; Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (July 17, 1998), 2187 U.N.T.S. 38544, available at ICC website.)

In addition to investigating such offenses as killings, abductions, rapes, and conscription of children, Bensouda noted that the deliberate destruction of shrines of Muslim saints in Timbuktu may also constitute a war crime. (Press Release, supra.)

Human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and international leaders like U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have decried the severe human rights crisis in Mali in recent months. The violence in the country began following attacks by Taureg tribesmen on Malian soldiers. (Belczyk, supra.)