The swinging pendulum of cultural heritage crimes in international criminal law
Intersections in International Cultural Heritage Law
Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2020
Contemporary prosecutions in international criminal tribunals have exposed a long-standing debate over the role of cultural heritage-based crimes in international criminal law. This chapter presents an historical analysis that reveals that the pendulum has swung back and forth with regard to support for including offenses that expressly refer to the destruction or seizure of artistic, historic, and scientific property and of ‘historic monuments’. While cultural heritage destruction was proposed as an offense after the First World War, a pervasive reluctance to include it largely prevailed from the postwar Nuremberg trials until the late 1980s. This chapter attributes this reluctance in part to coinciding developments in cultural property protection that were occurring outside international criminal law, such as the 1954 Hague Convention and the early drafts of the 1948 Genocide Convention. Before the end of the century, though, the pendulum swung back in favor of including the deliberate and unnecessary destruction of certain cultural heritage as a discrete and separate war crime. Both ad hoc international criminal codes and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court reflect lasting recognition of the role that cultural heritage destruction can play in the larger narrative of oppressing, persecuting, and even eradicating targeted collective groups.
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