Stone on UK ratification of the 1954 Hague Convention


Peter Stone argues in the Art Newspaper that the UK ratification of the 1954 Hague Convention really is a big deal:

Is this really a big deal? Actually, yes it is, on all sorts of levels. Those of us in the heritage community are often told to stop complaining and to understand that in war things get damaged and destroyed. True, but from Sun Tzu in sixth-century BC China to Dwight Eisenhower in the 20th century, generals and military strategists have argued that the destruction of cultural heritage is bad military practice (not least because it frequently provides the first excuse for the next conflict).

There are at least seven different risks to heritage during conflict: lack of planning; spoils of war; collateral damage; military lack of awareness; looting; enforced neglect and specific targeting. All of them can be addressed to a greater or lesser extent, thereby reducing overall the impact. Protecting cultural heritage is not only important to specialised academic interests, heritage represents communal memory, and access to it has recently been argued to be a human right by the UN’s special rapporteur for cultural rights. It contributes to well-being and can foster post-conflict economic stability by encouraging tourism.

Finally, it is increasingly recognised as a military “force-multiplier”—protecting the heritage of your enemy may not win you many friends but it should ensure you do not make more enemies: a lesson hard-learnt from numerous recent cases where cultural heritage was ignored and not protected by occupying forces leading to unnecessary problems and casualties.

  1. Peter Stone, Why ratifying the Hague Convention matters, The Art Newspaper (2016.11.29).

Responses to criticism of heritage destruction trial at ICC

A traditional mud structure stands in the Malian city of Timbuktu May 15, 2012. Picture taken May 15, 2012. REUTERS/Adama Diarra
A traditional mud structure stands in the Malian city of Timbuktu May 15, 2012. Picture taken May 15, 2012. REUTERS/Adama Diarra

Apollo Magazine offers two brief but insightful Op-Eds on the recent heritage destruction trial at the ICC. Brian Daniels notes some of the controversy and responses to the guilty plea of Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi of intentionally destroying cultural heritage in Timbuktu in 2012. He notes the difference between crimes against people and crimes against art, but then rightly points out that the perpetrators of these acts see them differently:

Those who intend to do civilians harm have two goals: to eliminate that population and to remove any material evidence of that people’s existence. Mass killing and cultural destruction are simply two different stages in the same violent process of ethnic cleansing and genocide. If we consider the intent of violence against civilians, then the division collapses between crimes against human life and crimes against culture. Present-day oppressors and terrorists do not see this distinction in their actions. Neither should we.

Helen Walasek links the criticism of the Al Mahdi trial to similar criticism which took place during the Bosnian conflict:

Human-rights organisations commenting on the Al Mahdi case have all agreed that the intentional destruction of cultural property during armed conflict is a war crime. While some wished the indictment had been widened to include other war crimes, others gave unqualified support. The conviction of Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, said Human Rights Watch, sent ‘a clear message that attacking the world’s historical treasures will be punished’. Mark Ellis, chief executive of the International Bar Association and a war crimes expert, observed: ‘Destruction of cultural heritage is not a second-rate crime. It’s part of an atrocity to erase a people.’

  1. Is the destruction of cultural property a war crime?, Apollo Magazine (Nov. 28, 2016).

Note on Islamic State antiquities profits

Louis Vignes, Temple of Baalshamin, Palmyra, Syria (1864)
Louis Vignes, Temple of Baalshamin, Palmyra, Syria (1864)

Hannah Willett, a JD candidate at the University of Arizona has published a student note examining what U.S. criminal penalties could be used to prosecute the market end of antiquities which may pass through the Islamic State. Though many student notes can suffer from not having a full understanding of the scholarship examining illicit cultural heritage, this piece rises above the typical student note; perhaps owing to the fact that Ms. Willett undertook study at the Tulane-Siena summer program.

From the abstract:

The illicit antiquities market is a thriving international enterprise that has the potential to fuel wide-scale criminal and terrorist activity. Nonetheless, the economic and symbolic impact of cultural property exploitation has been largely overlooked.

This Note explores the role that the illegal antiquities market can and does play in facilitating terrorist activities, particularly in ISIS-controlled areas of the Middle East. It addresses the regulatory obstacles uniquely inherent to the trade of cultural property, and examines international, national, and online intermediary responses to looting and the market.

Finally, this Note proposes a multi-faceted, counteractive response to the trade. First, the Note highlights the potential for online intermediaries to serve as powerful choke points. It then draws attention to the undertheorized and underutilized mechanisms of U.S. domestic law that are readily employable to combat the illicit trade. Lastly, this Note emphasizes the important function that education can have in reducing consumer demand, and consequently, in disincentivizing participation at every step along the trade.

  1. Hannah D. Willett, Ill-Gotten Gains: A Response to the Islamic State’s Profits from the Illicit Antiquities Market, 58 Ariz. L. Rev. 831 (2016).

New article on Vietnam and the antiquities trade

Damien Huffer, Duncan Chappell, Lâm Thị Mỹ Dzung, and Hoàng Long Nguyên have published a work in Volume 14 of the Journal of Public Archaeology looking at the looting of antiquities in Vietnam. From the introduction:

The exact nature of the illicit antiquities trade from ground to market in Southeast Asia remains poorly known outside of Thailand and Cambodia, where most research has been focused. This paper helps to address this imbalance by documenting and contextualizing looting activities at the Bronze and Iron Age site of Vườn Chuối, located within urban Hanoi. A brief excavation history is provided so as to place recent looting into archaeological context. The methods used to document the recent and on-going looting observed are then discussed, followed by the nature of the current threat to Vườn Chuôi and a summation of what little is known about the Vietnamese antiquities trade in general and its relationship to regional antiquities trafficking. Finally, we discuss the current regulatory landscape in terms of constitutional, ownership, penal and international law, difficulties with enforcement and prosecution, and what course of action is needed not only to protect Vườn Chuôi and similar sites in and around Hanoi, but also to continue to raise public awareness of the archaeological repercussions of the trade itself.

  1. Damien Huffer et al., From the Ground, Up: The Looting of Vưườn Chuối within the Vietnamese and Southeast Asian Antiquities Trade, 14 Public Archaeology 224 (2015).