The Al-Mahdi case at the International Criminal Court (ICC) was a signal to armed groups and governments that attacks against cultural property cannot go unpunished. Ahmad Al Faqi Al-Mahdi was convicted by the ICC for committed war crimes of intentionally directing attacks against historical buildings and monuments. Still, while applying the provision of the war crime of attacking cultural property, the Court went beyond the strict content of the war crime of attacking cultural property, as codified in the Rome Statute; “attack” in the context of the Rome Statute has a specific meaning and refers to a combat action during a military operation. The attacks against cultural property in theAl-Mahdi case were not part of a combat action in the course of a military operation. Rather, they were carried out as part of law enforcement activities in the territories controlled by the armed groups. The Al-Mahdi case was a lost opportunity to bring charges of persecution as a crime against humanity before the ICC, even though according to the Rome Statute and customary international law the act of attacking cultural property may amount to a crime against humanity. In addition, both practice and opinion juris provide that attacks against cultural property per se may constitute “another inhumane act” of a crime against humanity. However, the law is blurred and it does not fall under the jurisdiction of the ICC, unlike other crimes against humanity. Nevertheless, the Rome Statute does not hinder the development of this norm of international law.
About the author
Аni Нarutyunyan – MA, Adv. LL.M (Leiden University, Netherlands), independent researcher, Moscow, Russia.
Нarutyunyan А. (2017) Delo Al-Mahdi i napadenie na kul’turnye tsennosti kak mezhdunarodnoe prestuplenie [The Al-Mahdi case and attack against cultural property as an international crime]. Mezhdunarodnoe pravosudie, no.2, pp.118–132. (In Russian).
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