What can the trial against al-Mahdi achieve?

The trial of Islamist rebel Ahmad al-Mahdi from Mali began on Monday. The International Criminal Court in The Hague has charged him with destroying cultural sites in Timbuktu in 2012, to which Al-Mahdi has already pleaded guilty. This trial will only encourage Islamists, some commentators fear. Others believe it will act as a deterrent.

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Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

The Hague is another big stage for criminals

The trial in The Hague underlines the relevance of cultural assets - but that's about it, the Süddeutsche Zeitung concludes:

“The tension between protecting culture and protecting life has not been eased. Ahmad al-Mahdi will probably be convicted of destroying temples, but not of rape and other crimes against civilians. Is it acceptable for the court to focus on stones - even if they are world heritage stones - when people have suffered? Isn't every trial on the desecration of cultural assets a prioritisation at the expense of the victims? … We shouldn't entertain false illusions about the deterrent impact of the trial. The more attention such an act gets, the bigger the shock produced by videos of destroyed cultural assets, the greater the satisfaction for the perpetrators and would-be perpetrators. The Hague is another big stage for them.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Trial deters potential Islamists

The trial over the destruction of cultural sites in Timbuktu does have a positive aspect, Der Standard counters, pointing out that it could deter Mali youths from joining the Islamists:

“The arguments in favour of the trial cannot be easily dismissed. The violence wasn't only focussed on material destruction, it was also an attempt to obliterate the region's culture and history. And it constituted a direct physical attack on a way of life - the moderate Islam predominant in Mali. The events of the trial also hold out hope. The way al-Mahdi regretted being 'diverted from the right path' may give young Malians in danger of becoming radicalised pause for thought. Then the trial will at least have achieved one goal.”