Monday 9 February 2015

Islamic State steps up its destruction of Iraqi cultural heritage

Guest blogger Marian Ang, trainee solicitor at Olswang and previously of UNESCO, has kindly written this blog on UNESCO's calls for protected cultural zones in Iraq: 

It has been reported that the Islamic State has stepped up its ‘purge’ of Iraq’s cultural sites over the past month, most recently in Mosul – Iraq’s second city and the largest city currently controlled by the extremists.

Considering ‘culture, civilization and science as their fierce enemies’, IS’s occupation of the city has seen the destruction of dozens of historic sites holding meaning for Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike, including the ancient Nineveh wall, the Citadel Church and the mosques and tombs of the prophets Seth and Jonah. Mosul Museum is now reported to be under the control of IS, with the museum’s prized collection of art and antiquities facing destruction or sale on the black market. Numerous reports point to IS using the looting and trafficking of such antiquities to fund their campaign.

Most recently, Mosul’s Central Library had around 2,000 items, including maps and books dating from the Ottoman Empire, seized and allegedly burned for promoting ‘infidelity’ and ‘disobeying Allah’. Whilst during the Iraq War residents near the Central Library secreted away centuries-old manuscripts to prevent their looting or destruction, IS has declared the penalty for such actions death.

Meanwhile UNESCO has called the protection of cultural heritage in Iraq and Syria ‘a security imperative’, and suggested that protected cultural zones around heritage sites could be created through a ‘bottom up plan of action’, built on locals’ increasing aversion to the violence, bloodshed and suffering. The meeting of 500 delegates at Paris headquarters in December also called for implementation of the 1954 Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its protocols, as well to end impunity against deliberate attacks on cultural heritage, which is a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Read more here and here

Read more about UNESCO's call for protected cultural zones in Iraq and Syria here

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