The Latest

In Support of the ICC’s War Crimes Case on Heritage Destruction

September 30, 2015

The Antiquities Coalition strongly commends and supports the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) decision to prosecute Ahmad Al-Mahdi Al Faqi for war crimes — in the first case brought before the ICC on the destruction of cultural property.  This landmark decision sends a strong message that the intentional destruction of our shared heritage will not be tolerated and that those who engage in these crimes will be held accountable for their actions.

ICCAl-Mahdi is a member of the al Qaeda-affiliated Ansar Dine in Mali.  He is being tried for directing the looting and destruction of the ancient North African city of Timbuktu in 2012.  According to the ICC arrest warrant, Al-Mahdi is alleged to have intentionally directed attacks against at least nine historic mausoleums and one mosque, as part of Ansar Dine’s campaign to eradicate anything they view as idolatry (even other forms of Islam). Timbuktu is recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNECSO for its rich Islamic architecture dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries.  

“This is the first such case and it breaks new ground for the protection of humanity’s shared cultural heritage and values,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova. “The cultural heritage of Mali belongs to all humanity. It is vital that the criminals be brought to justice.” 

The Antiquities Coalition has long supported UNESCO’s calls to try members of terrorist organizations for deliberate and targeted attacks on cultural heritage, which are war crimes under international law. On March 6, we wrote the ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda urging the court to immediately open an investigation into such crimes by ISIS in northern Iraq, including their destruction of the Mosul Library, Mosul Museum, and Assyrian ruins of Nimrud and Nineveh. The ICC has yet to launch a case against ISIS — for these or other atrocity crimes — but the Al-Mahdi prosecution sets a strong precedent.

Just two days before the ICC’s announcement, at the high level forum Culture Under Threat: Antiquities Trafficking and Terrorist Financing, we joined our co-hosts and partners UNESCO, the Asia Society, and Middle East Institute in pushing for ICC action on heritage crimes. This request was included in a “Call to Action” issued at the close of the event. We appeal to all those who share our concerns over this loss of our cultural heritage to sign on to this document here.