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).

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