09.03.2015 | UNESCO

The systematic destruction of cultural heritage at the hands of the Islamic State

by Marina Lostal

Iraqi officials have reported that, last Saturday 7 of March, the Islamic State destroyed Hatra, a 2,000-year-old fortified city around 100 km south-west of Mosul. The Islamic State is believed to have bulldozed the site and looted the cultural artifacts housed inside, including gold and silver objects. The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, has declared that “[t]he destruction of Hatra marks a turning point in the appalling strategy of cultural cleansing underway in Iraq” (here)

The demolition of the city of Hatra is the last in a trend of deliberate destruction of cultural heritage for ideological reasons: on 26 February, the Islamic State wreaked havoc in the Mosul Museum and, on 6 March, it destroyed the archaeological site of Nimrud. Since Nimrud is on the Iraqi Tentative List of world cultural heritage and Hatra is a declared world heritage site, one is left to wonder if the Islamic State is strategically following these lists when planning its line of action.

The UN Security Council President Liu Jieyi condemned the incursion into the Mosul Museum in a press statement that reminded that the illicit traffic of cultural items “is being used to support their recruitment efforts and strengthen their operational capability to organize and carry out terrorist attacks.”

Irina Bokova has alerted the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in an effort “to put an end to this catastrophe”. In fact, intentionally directing attacks against historic monuments is a war crime under the ICC Statute, but Iraq is not a party to it. As things stand now, the Court could only prosecute those allegedly responsible for these acts committed on the territory of Iraq if they were nationals of states parties to the ICC Statute.