For the first time in its 14-year history, the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands has charged the destruction of cultural artifacts as a war crime, sentencing Ahmad al-Faqi al-Madhi, a Malian national who helped lead attacks on cultural and religious institutions in Timbuktu in 2012 as part of a coalition of local rebels and al-Qaeda members.
al-Madhi, who pleaded guilty to the crimes and asked for forgiveness last month. Raul Cano Pangalangan, the presiding ICC judge on the case, said al-Madhi's guilty plea and seemingly genuine remorse resulted in a more lenient sentence.
Last month, al-Madhi said he had been under an "evil wave" when he ordered the destruction of ancient mausoleums in Timbuktu, which has been settled since the 12th century. “I hope the years I will spend in prison will enable me to purge the evil spirits that overtook me," he said.
This is just the fourth conviction handed down by the ICC, which has indicted 39 people and faced accusations that it is too unsuccessful at prosecuting its cases.
Beyond this case, the ICC has been expanding its jurisdiction past traditional war crimes in recent years. Last month, it unveiled a plan to begin looking at environmental crimes and land grabs.
Sam Stecklow is the Weekend Editor for Fusion.