Tuesday, September 27, 2016

First conviction for destruction of cultural properties at the International Criminal Court

National Public Radio (here in the United States) and many other news outlets are reporting that Ahmed al-Faqi al-Mahd, the first individual tried in the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes involving the destruction of cultural properties, has been sentenced to nine years in prison. He had previously pleaded guilty to orchestrating attacks on mausoleums and other buildings in Timbuktu (a World Heritage Site) while that city was occupied by a militant group associated with Al-Qaida. Such war crimes are hardly crimes of passion, but rather well-planned, deliberate tactics designed for political ends. Therefore, prosecution and punishment may well serve as a deterrent.

The destruction of cultural property appears to fall under the jurisdiction of the ICC because it is included in the Rome Statute under which the Court operates and presumably other states were unable or unwilling to prosecute. For example, in Article 8, "War Crimes," Section 2, paragraph b(ix), reads in part,
“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;” (emphasis added)
Similar language appears in other places in the treaty.

Let us hope that this successful prosecution serves as a salutary lesson for others who would attack and destroy the common heritage of humanity.

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