The legal framework for destruction of cultural heritage in Timbuktu during 2012-2013: Further legal considerations (6/7)

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The Tomb of Askia standing 17 m tall. Photo credit: UNESCO Africa

Destruction of World Heritage

The UNESCO Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage of 1972 ought to be considered in connection to the conflict in Mali and the destruction of its cultural heritage. Especially so, considering that the targeted shrines were considered World Heritage as a part of the inscribed city of Timbuktu, and as it would appear that these were particularly targeted – not exclusively for religious reasons, but for the sentiment associated with them. The destruction of heritage, which has been deemed to be of universal significance, is therefore essentially not a national matter, but a concern of the international community. Article 11(4) in the Convention (UNESCO, 1972a) specifies the drafting of a List of World Heritage in Danger– a list that Timbuktu has been inscribed on since 2012 together with the Tomb of Askia as has been stated above. However, the inscription on the list does not qualify for international invention, but rather its purpose is to …inform the international community of conditions which threaten the very characteristics for which a property was inscribed on the World Heritage List, and to encourage corrective action.” (UNESCO, 1972b) The inscription on the list, may however qualify for financial support through allowing the World Heritage Committee to provide funds for the assistance for means of preservation. The enlistment of the properties of Timbuktu and the Tomb of Askia did result in the assistance of 23.334 USD in 2012 and further two emergency missions to the state in this year following the destruction. Considering the further donations made for the reconstructions of the shrines so soon after their destruction the inscription of the sites would be considered successful. Especially so, considered in relation to the prosecution launched by the ICC over the destruction of the shrines and degradation of one of the mosques of Timbuktu. In this context the association and cooperation between the ICC and UN however ought to be stressed, as a strong relationship in considered in the Statute. This may be expressed through Article 2, Article 8( 2)(b)(iii), Article 13(b), Article 15, Article 16, Article 112(6), Article 115, Article 117, Article 121, Article 122, Article 123, Article 125, Article 126, Article 127 and Article 128, recognizing the role of the United Nations and also the Security Council for the ICC and the operation of the Rome Statute.

As a human rights violation

The destruction of cultural heritage, may however also be perceived within the context of human rights violation. Article 27(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) (United Nations, 1948) states that “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.” While Article 27(2) states that “Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.”  Thus, as argued by Ugo Bonnici (2009), the right of a community, a society or of humankind to cultural values and expression may also be considered to encompass the right to heritage. He has argued that the protection of heritage, is dependent on a further consideration of the legal framework that heritage can be considered within, in order to achieve the enactment of laws in favour of the protection of cultural heritage, rather than adoption of policies. In light of the ICC prosecution of destruction of cultural heritage in Mali as war-crimes, such an expansion may be visible. However, the consideration of destruction of cultural heritage as a violation of human rights, or connected to these, may also have been considered. Turkey also launched a bid for repatriation of sculptures from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus in 2012 under the Human Rights legislation. The most serious legal obstacle for this approach is however that the convention was not in place until 1954 and the sculptures were obtained during the 19th century with legal permits from the Ottoman authorities.

Alberge, Dalya; 2012:
‘Turkey turns to human rights law to reclaim British Museum sculptures’ in The Guardian, 8 Dec., available at: ( [last accessed 01 July 2016)
Bonnici, Ugo, 2009:
An Introduction to Cultural Heritage Law’, Reference and Research Book News, vol. 24 (1), February, Ringgold Inc.
UNESCO, 1972a:
‘Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage’, The General Conference of UNESCO adopted on 16 November 1972 the Recommendation concerning the Protection at National Level, of the Cultural and Natural Heritage; United Nations, available at: ( [last accessed 13 October 2015]
UNESCO, 1972b.
‘World heritage in dangerunder the World Heritage List, Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage, United Nations, available at: ( [last accessed 13 October 2015]
UNESCO, 2015.
State of Conservation – Timbuktu, United Nations, available at:  (,
                  [last accessed  07 October 2015]


All research published through this series of blog-posts was originally presented as post-graduate work at University College of London, Institute of Archaeology

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Nanette Askholm Bulow

Nanette Askholm Bulow

Nanette is currently completing an MSc in Global Governance at Birkbeck University in London and is in the midst of moving back to Copenhagen, her bicycle and dark winter nights. She has previously finished an MA in Archaeology from UCL with emphasis on modern engagement with cultural heritage and has done field work in Jordan and Sudan.

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