MALI: the destruction of heritage has been recognised as a weapon of war

In a world scarred by recurrent violence against people and their heritage, the nine-year prison sentence handed down to Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, who helped to destroy shrines in Timbuktu, marks a new and welcome recognition that deliberate cultural destruction is a war crime. It is the first international trial to focus exclusively on crimes against historical and religious monuments. Fifteen long years after the blasting of the Bamiyan Buddhas, the ICC ruling on the destruction of the mausoleums of Timbuktu passed with the world still reeling over spectacular acts of devastation in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere. Yet the verdict reinforces previous judgments against Balkan warlords by the UN’s international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which treated crimes against heritage, notably in Dubrovnik, as part of broader charges involving murder and theft.

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