New York: The destruction of cultural heritage is a violation of human rights, a United Nations-appointed expert said tiday, as the international criminal tribunal began a pre-trial procedure for the first-ever case in which charges were brought against the destruction of cultural and religious sites.
“It is impossible to separate a people’s cultural heritage from the people itself and their rights,” Karima Bennoune, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on cultural rights, said in a press statement. “Clearly, we must now understand that when cultural heritage is under attack, it is also the people and their fundamental human rights that are under attack.”
On 1 March, a pre-trial procedure, known as a confirmation of charges hearing, was opened in The Hague by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for a case related to alleged cultural destruction in Timbuktu, Mali.
While stressing that she does not want to prejudge the ongoing individual case before the ICC, Ms. Bennoune said that the destruction of cultural heritage by States and non-State actors must be urgently addressed by the international community.
“When mausoleums – as well as ancient Islamic manuscripts – were being destroyed by armed groups during their 2012 occupation of Northern Mali, various forms of cultural practice were also under attack, including music and religious practices,” she said.
The UN expert welcomed the decision of the ICC Prosecutor’s Office, for the first time, to charge the destruction of cultural and religious sites, as well as historical monuments, as a stand-alone war crime.
In a report to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday 10 March, the expert will address further the links between destruction of cultural heritage and violations of cultural rights. She will also make key recommendations, including for international cooperation and technical assistance.