The Criminalisation of the Intentional Destruction of Cultural Heritage

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Forging a Socio-Legal Approach to Environmental Harms Global Perspectives, 2017, pp. 237 - 266
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This chapter examines how modern international law is protecting world heritage (‘the cultural heritage of all humanity’) by criminalising the intentional destruction of cultural heritage. The digital age of the twenty-first century has witnessed a proliferation of deliberate acts of destruction, damaging and pillaging of World Heritage sites and their broadcasting via social media and the internet. This chapter examines the evolving rationales for the intentional destruction of cultural heritage since the early twentieth century and international law’s response to such acts. First, there is an analysis of its initial criminalisation with the codification of the laws and customs of war and their interpretation by the Nuremberg Tribunal in 1945 through to the jurisprudence of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Court, The Hague. Next, I consider how these developments were extended to crimes against humanity and genocide which enabled deliberate, targeted destruction of cultural heritage to be viewed as intrinsic to gross violations of international humanitarian law and systematic abuses of human rights. Finally, I examine the transformative impact of the digital age on the deliberate destruction of world heritage and the efforts of the international community, through the UN Security Council and UNESCO, to cooperate in curbing incitement and holding perpetrators to account for crimes against the common heritage of humanity.
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