International Criminal Law

In the past, little possibilities existed to prosecute crimes against cultural heritage. Recently, though, the world witnessed a number of important events in case-law developments by the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in 1993 and the adoption in 1998 of the Rome Statute by the International Criminal Court (ICC), both relating to the subject at hand.

The ICTY is a United Nations court of law dealing with war crimes that took place during the conflicts in the Balkans in the 1990’s. Since its establishment it has irreversibly changed the landscape of international humanitarian law. Breaches of the 1954 Hague Convention have occurred over the past three decades in far too many cases, amongst others in former Yugoslavia. That is why the Statutes for the ICTY sanction the seizure of, destruction, or wilful damage done to institutions dedicated to religion, charity and education, the arts and sciences, historic monuments and works of art and science. Over ten responsible persons from ex-Yugoslavia have been prosecuted according to the articles concerning cultural property.

Because the ICTY was established to try crimes committed only within a specific time-frame and during a specific conflict, there was general agreement that an independent, permanent criminal court was needed. The International Criminal Court became that first permanent, treaty based, international criminal court. It was established to help end impunity for the perpetrators of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community. Unlike the ICTY the ICC is entirely independent and not part of the United Nations system. With the establishment of the ICC war criminals can since be tried personally for destructive acts or operations against cultural heritage. Article 8 clearly states that persons presumed to have intentionally directed attacks against civilian objects or buildings dedicated to religion, art, science, charitable purposes, and historic monuments, provided they are not military objectives, will be persecuted by the ICC. The adoption of the Rome Statute of the ICC really makes a large difference in the prosecution of war crimes against cultural heritage.

To visit the website of the International Criminal Court click here.

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