In Timbuktu, ICC reparations bring mixed feelings

In the Timbuktu region of northern Mali, the International Criminal Court (ICC) Trust Fund for Victims has since 2021 been compensating victims of the destruction of the city's holy shrines during the occupation by Jihadists in 2012. While people appreciate the principle of reparations, many feel frustrated by the amount allocated and the methodology.

Reparations on a mausoleum in Timbuktu, Mali, by Malian workers.
The mausoleums in Timbuktu, destroyed by jihadists, were rebuilt back in 2015. The International Criminal Court Victims' Fund is now organizing its own reparations. © Thierry Joffroy / CRAterre
3 min 36Approximate reading time

In September 2016, the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague found Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi of Mali guilty of destroying Timbuktu mausoleums and sentenced him to nine years in prison. A year later, the court issued an order, upheld on appeal in 2018, sentencing the former Jihadist to individual and collective reparations amounting to 2.7 million euros, including one million in individual reparations.

Al-Mahdi was recognized as indigent by the ICC, meaning that he cannot afford to pay the amount decided by the judges. The judges requested that the Trust Fund for Victims raise the money so that victims could actually receive reparations. "The Fund did this, mobilizing 800,000 from its reserves, and then by raising funds from States Parties to the Court,” explains Antonin Rabecq, programme manager of the Trust Fund for Victims for Mali. “In this case, funds were raised from Canada, Norway, Germany, Italy, and the UK."

In 2021, the ICC Trust Fund for Victims, which has a dual mandate - to implement reparations ordered by the Court and to provide assistance to victims in situations under examination by the Court - began paying individual reparations to victims of the destruction of the Timbuktu mausoleums and the Sidi Yahia mosque gate. In order to receive reparations, victims had to prove that they had suffered moral or economic damage from the destruction of the buildings. For victims who suffered moral damage, they must show their ancestral link with the main saint of the destroyed mausoleum. For economic damage, they need to show that their income was derived exclusively from the destroyed mausoleum(s). If their file is complete, the Fund makes a decision on eligibility within two weeks, either positive or negative.

Mixed feelings 

To date, according to the Fund, 989 victims have received individual reparations. But in Timbuktu, feelings are torn between satisfaction and frustration.

Harber Kounta and several members of his family, because of their relationship with one of the saints of the affected mausoleums (Cheick Sidi El Mokhtar Ben Sidi Mouhammad Al Kabir Al Kounti), have each received about 305 euros in a single payment via Orange Money, a mobile payment service of the Orange group. Kounta deems this not enough, given the 1,005,000 euros ordered by the Court in individual financial compensation. "Given the amount announced, those directly concerned find it insufficient," he said.

"The sums allocated will never really be able to satisfy the victims," acknowledges the Fund's programme officer. Family heads had asked that the money for their family members be given to them so that they could redistribute it, a request that was refused by the Fund. According to a source in the city, the money, although "paltry", has nevertheless enabled some people to set up economic activities such as stores, enabling them to earn a regular income.

398 applications not eligible

The fact that 398 applications were considered ineligible, according to the Fund, is particularly galling in Timbuktu. "The choice of some beneficiaries is being criticized and this is creating resentment, because some people who consider they have a more legitimate claim did not receive money," said a source who requested anonymity and who regretted that local associations were not involved for greater impact.

"At the very beginning, family representatives were consulted,” says Kounta, “but the more things progressed, the less we were consulted. Today, we are no longer involved, and we find it hard to understand some of the choices that have been made of beneficiaries," he says. Within his family, young people have received reparations while elders "very involved" in the management of the mausoleums have received nothing, he says.

"The heads of the families and their close circle were among the first to receive reparations. Now the reparations are not for that core group, so they are less aware of what is happening," says Rabecq. Individual reparations payments are coming to an end, although some cases are still being processed. Victims’ lawyer Mayombo Kassongo has until December 15 to submit his files, and the Fund has until March 14, 2023, to render its decisions and proceed with implementing reparations.

Collective reparations

If the full amount of the award is not used for individual reparations by those dates, it will be used for collective reparations. It has not been possible to find out the amount distributed to date out of the one million ordered, nor whether all the victims compensated received the same amount of 305 euros.

More than four years after the court's decision, consultations with local leaders and young people from associations are still under way to determine the form of the collective reparations. These reparations, which are supposed to benefit the entire Timbuktu community, must combine measures of socio-economic rehabilitation, commemoration, heritage maintenance and rehabilitation activities. For the economic reparation measures, a study was conducted between December 2021 and June 2022. Implementation of its recommendations is scheduled to begin in the first half of 2023 and should last 30 to 36 months, until mid-2025. For reparations related to heritage, some plans are being drawn up in partnership with UNESCO. Some families want the cemeteries to be surrounded by a protective wall and for local masons to carry out the work. Almost every family has a mason, according to Kounta. The process began in June 2022 and the measures are to be implemented by the end of 2024. There is also discussion of commemoration days to be marked in 2023. These could bring together the entire population of Timbuktu, where respect for the saints of the mausoleums extends far beyond their descendants.

All our articles about: