On 1st March, the destruction of cultural heritage as a war crime: the case of Al Faqi at the ICC

by Fiana Gantheret

On 1st March 2016 at 9.30 a.m. (The Hague time), the International Criminal Court (ICC) will hold the confirmation of charges hearing in the case The Prosecutor v. Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi. If Pre-Trial Chamber I confirms the charges against Mr Al Faqi, a trial chamber of the ICC will then conduct the trial, in accordance with Article 61(7)(a) of the Rome Statute.

This former jihadi leader is accused of war crimes allegedly committed in Timbuktu, Mali, between about 30 June 2012 and 10 July 2012, through intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to religion and/or historical monuments, including nine mausoleums and a mosque. These buildings were under the protection of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), some of them being World Heritage Sites, namely they were placed on World Heritage list by a special UNESCO committee. It is alleged that as a result of these attacks, the buildings were severely damaged, destroyed in certain cases.

Another case at the ICC involves allegations under Article8(2)(e)(iv) of the Rome Statute, namely 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. Attacks that constitute serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in armed conflicts not of an international character other than grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949. Indeed, in the case The Prosecutor v. Bosco Ntaganda, the former alleged Deputy Chief of the Staff and commander of operations of the Forces Patriotiques pour la Libération du Congo is accused of having destroyed a church and a hospital.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the case The Prosecutor v. Prlic et al also brought attention to the question of cultural sites in times of war, with the destruction of the Stari Most of the city of Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the war between Bosnia and Croatia.

The fate of our cultural heritage is tied to the will of those who want to destroy it in order to assert power in times of war and conflict. It is said that to destroy a monument is like committing a parricide. According to the charges, these monuments were destroyed for the specific reason that they constituted religious and historical monuments, and did not constitute military objectives. 


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