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Lecture | Studium Generale

Heritage Under Threat

Wednesday 1 March 2017
Anna van Buerenplein
Anna van Buerenplein 301
2595 DG The Hague

The idea that heritage is under threat is certainly not new: historically, cultural symbols have always been targeted in times of conflict and transition, but destruction is increasingly visible today with social media and its use as a tool by certain groups to elicit a public response. Two aspects make the destruction of heritage a matter for international law, both of which were alluded to by the Prosecutor during the recent Al Mahdi case at the International Criminal Court (ICC): the destruction of important cultural heritage sites is an affront to the values of humanity as a whole. This was clear at the reaction to many similar acts of destruction, for example, during the war in the former Yugoslavia at the shelling of Dubrovnik and Mostar, at the deliberate destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan by the Taliban in 2001, and more recently at the attack on Palmyra and other heritage sites in Syria, Iraq and beyond. The second is the close link between cultural sites and the rights of communities attached to them. The Al Mahdi case, which concerned the deliberate targeting of mosques and mausoleums in Timbuktu, was as much about the role these monuments played in the rites and practices of the local inhabitants, as it was about the destruction of physical monuments themselves.
However, not all destruction or threat to heritage is intentional, and indeed, heritage is also under threat due to environmental factors, as well as in non-conflict situations (think of large infrastructural or resource extraction projects which go under the radar but which are often more widespread).
This talk will assess the various fields of international law dealing with heritage under threat, including humanitarian law, international criminal law, human rights and cultural heritage law, and discuss these in light of the current challenges facing heritage under threat today.

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