Although cultural property destruction, like any other crime, should be prosecuted by a State in national courts, this is not always possible. The International Criminal Court (ICC) is a neutral, independent body set up to prosecute the gravest, most serious breaches of international law where States cannot. It is governed by the 1998 Rome Statute, which sets out the structure, activity, and remit of the ICC, stating what acts can be considered War Crimes.
- For the purpose of this Statute, ‘war crimes’ means:
b (ii) Intentionally directing attacks against civilian objects, that is, objects which are not military objectives;
(ix) Intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science or charitable purposes, historic monuments, hospitals and places where the sick and wounded are collected, provided they are not military objectives;
(xvi) Pillaging a town or place, even when taken by assault;
(xiii) Destroying or seizing the enemy’s property unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war;
e (iv) and (v), (xii) make all these provisions (bar the first) applicable “in armed conflicts not of an international character”.
The International Criminal Court, The Hague
© Photo by OSeveno, 27 August 2016, CC BY-SA 4.0, from Wikimedia Commons
In 2017, the ICC sentenced Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi for the destruction of religious and historic buildings in Mali. In addition to a 9 year prison sentence, the court found him liable for 2.7 million euros of individual and collective reparations for the community of Timbuktu as recompense for the loss. You can read more about the Al-Mahdi case on the website of the ICC.
The ICC grew out of the work of the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), a court of law that dealt with war crimes that took place during the conflicts in the Balkans in the 1990s. The ICTY set many precedents that are still relevant today, including sentencing for the destruction of cultural heritage sites.
Mosque in Timbuktu, Mali
Al-Mahdi was accused of the war crime of intentionally directing attacks against 10
mausoleums and mosques in Timbuktu between 30 June and 11 July 2012.
© Photo by Francesco Bandarin, CC BY-SA 3.0-igo, via Wikimedia Commons