In recent years, the vulnerability of cultural property during armed conflict has been a high-profile issue of international concern. The al Mahdi prosecution at the International Criminal Court, for the destruction of sites in Timbuktu, represents an important development in the protection of cultural property. As the first international criminal law prosecution solely for cultural property crimes, it is recognition that loss of cultural heritage leads to both local and global harms and opens the door to future prosecutions. This article first briefly explains the current international law framework. It then explains the significance of the al Mahdi trial and the challenges in realising any potential benefits. The article concludes that while the trial is an important development, if this prosecution represents either the totality of international criminal law engagement in Mali or the final prosecution for the destruction of cultural property, the possible benefits will be undermined.
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