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Spotlight on Dr. Joe Powderly

Joe Powderly was recently awarded a Leiden Global Interactions Advanced Seminar grant (GIAS) for a project that looks at heritage destruction, human rights and international law. The project approaches cultural heritage destruction from an interdisciplinary perspective and involves an exciting collaboration with the Faculty of Archaeology.

Before telling us about the GIAS project, can you tell us about your role here at Leiden University in The Hague?

I’m an Assistant Professor of Public International Law here at the Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies. I lecture in international criminal law (alongside Prof. William Schabas), and international criminal litigation on the Advanced LLM programme in Public International Law, as well as acting as the Academic Coordinator of the programme. I also lecture in international criminal law at Leiden University College.

Recently, my research has had a strong focus on international criminal law and legal theory where I’m particularly interested in conceptualizing the nature of the international criminal judicial function. I’m fascinated by questions relating to the role and legitimacy of judicial creativity as the driving force behind the progressive development of international criminal law. I try not to pigeonhole myself strictly as an international criminal lawyer though. I have a strong background in international human rights law and I’m keen to focus on human rights issues in the coming years.

Can you explain what the GIAS project is about?

We have all witnessed the appalling targeting and deliberate destruction of heritage sites in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Mali and elsewhere in recent times. There can be absolutely no doubt: such acts constitute international crimes entailing individual criminal responsibility. The recent Al Mahdi case at the International Criminal Court, involving the deliberate destruction of numerous mausoleums in Timbuktu by a functionary of Ansar Dine is a good illustration of the international condemnation of heritage destruction in armed conflict.

While the legal framework with respect to heritage destruction in armed conflict is relatively clear and straightforward, the same cannot be said of the normative framework that applies to the protection of cultural heritage in peacetime. The destruction of heritage outside of armed conflict although unquestionably more prevalent, can often go unnoticed. It is natural to discuss cultural heritage protection in terms of individual and collective rights. However, the exact nature and applicable justiciable framework of these rights is in desperate need of clarification and further exploration.

The idea behind the GIAS project is to offer a new perspective on the issue of cultural heritage destruction by combining legal analysis with cultural criticism. The project is jointly convened with my colleague Dr. Amy Strecker who is Assistant Professor in Heritage and Governance at the Faculty of Archaeology. In many ways it represents an exciting new collaboration between the Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies and the Faculty of Archaeology. While Amy and I have been involved in the ‘Heritage Under Threat’ research stream of the LDE Centre for Cultural Heritage and Development for some time, to the best of our knowledge this is first time the Grotius Centre and the Faculty of Archaeology have joined forces.

Interdisciplinary research is at the very heart of the project as it aims to bring together prominent scholars in the fields of heritage studies and various branches of international law with a view to exploring avenues by which cultural heritage rights can be accessed and realized. The seminar will focus on three issues: (1) the increasing case law dealing with heritage destruction at the international level; (2) other legal avenues for affecting access to justice for the protection of heritage under threat; and (3) conflicting areas of international law, such as investor rights in infrastructural and resource extraction projects.

What do you hope will be the end result of the project?

Well, the seminar will be held over three days in the first half of 2018 and will involve the participation of over a dozen prominent scholars in the fields of heritage studies and international law. Our hope is that it will ultimately result in the publication of an edited collection or a special issue of a relevant journal in the field of heritage studies and international law. However, the long-term goal is that it will set in place the building blocks for a research agenda on the topic and further collaboration between the Grotius Centre and the Faculty of Archaeology.