UNESCO and ICC join forces to end impunity for destruction of cultural heritage

Residents of Timbuktu pass by Djingareyber Mosque, one of the historical architectural structures along with Sankore Mosque, Sidi Yahia Mosque and sixteen mausoleums and holy public places which together earned Timbuktu the designation of World Heritage Site by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). UN Photo/Marco Dorm

14 June 2016 – The United Nations cultural agency and International Criminal Court (ICC) are working together in the fight against impunity for deliberate destruction of cultural heritage, which could constitute a war crime.

Visiting the Court at its headquarters in The Hague today, Irina Bokova, Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESO), met with ICC President Silvia Fernandez de Gurmandi, and Deputy Prosecutor James Stewart, to explore ways to deepen cooperation on the protection of cultural heritage and the fight against impunity of war crimes.

“UNESCO and ICC have come a long way together, to strengthen the rule of law, to change the mindset about the destruction of cultural heritage, and we are determined to go further, to end impunity for deliberate destruction of cultural heritage,” said Ms. Bokova.

“The destruction of culture is one element of a global strategy of hatred, and the fight against impunity and respect for the rule of law must be part and parcel in a broader vision for peace,” she added.

This calls for a stronger coordination among all partners working in different fields and between the security, humanitarian, and cultural domains, and the cooperation between UNESCO and the ICC plays an important role in this regard, she stressed.

Immediately after the deliberate attacks on the people and heritage of Mali, UNESCO raised the issue of the destruction of the mausoleums to the attention of the Court.

On 1 July, 2012, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda declared that this destruction constituted a war crime under the Rome Statute and then launched a preliminary examination into the violence that had been engulfing the country since January 2012.

The first suspect, Ahmed al-Faqi al-Mahdi, was transferred by the authorities of Mali and Niger to The Hague on 26 September 2015.

The case of Mali made history in the fight against impunity – recognizing the restoration of justice and the rule of law as an essential step of any recovery process. This sets a historic precedent for similar cases in the future.

In this spirit, UNESCO and the ICC are sharing expertise and information about the importance of the sites, about why they were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, and the reason why their deliberate destruction can be considered a war crime.

“The case of Mali sends a very strong message that perpetrators must face the consequences of their acts, and that we are determined to create a pattern of accountability for such war crimes,” said the ICC President.


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