Europa Nostra participates in ICTY’s discussion on crimes against cultural heritage, the Hague

Europa Nostra was invited by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) Outreach programme to attend the screening of its latest documentary “Dubrovnik and Crimes against Cultural Heritage”, which took place on 16 February 2017 at The Hague University of Applied Sciences, in the presence of Judge Carmel Agius, President of the ICTY. Sneska Quaedvlieg-Mihailovic, Secretary General of Europa Nostra, participated in a panel discussion together with Marina Lostal, lecturer in international law and international criminal law at The Hague University of Applied Sciences, and Laurel Baig, Senior Appeals Counsel at the Office of the Prosecutor, Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals. The speakers commented on the ICTY’s work in prosecuting crimes against cultural heritage over the years and reflected on ways to better prevent the destruction of cultural heritage in times of conflict, but also in times of peace.

In his opening remarks, Judge Carmel Agius referred to the recent conflicts in Syria and the inability of the international community to protect irreplaceable monuments. He therefore stressed the importance of ensuring a proper legacy for the ICTY as a contribution to the building of a robust international justice system. “Destruction of cultural heritage is a topic that, unfortunately, has regained prominence in today’s world, and in recent times efforts have intensified to protect institutions dedicated to religion, education and culture during conflicts. The Tribunal advanced the development of international criminal justice by recognising, and, thereby enabling, the prosecution of crimes against cultural heritage as a crime against humanity”, declared the President of the ICTY.

The panel discussion focused on the lessons learnt from the ICTY’s achievements and best practice examples to address such crimes in a preventive way, from an academic, legal and civil society point of view. While Laurel Baig recognised the necessity to take the destruction of heritage into account from the very beginning in related trials, Sneska Quaedvlieg-Mihailovic reflected on how international law can be used outside of the courtroom to safeguard heritage. In her address, she stated: “These cases prove that heritage has a multiple values, there is thus a need to join forces and unite. It is essential to reach out to and gather together a wide range of stakeholders, including other international and European institutions, the heritage community at all levels, but also historians and citizens in the former Yugoslavia.” She also advocated for a stronger power of international and European law to ensure a better protection of cultural heritage in times of peace.

Using the milestone trials for crimes committed during the shell bombing of Dubrovnik in 1991 as a case-study, “Dubrovnik and Crimes against Cultural Heritage” shows how the ICTY advanced the understanding of crimes against cultural and religious heritage and further developed its jurisprudence shaping the history of international criminal justice. Providing also historical and protection status facts, the documentary features other examples of significant destruction of built heritage such as Sarajevo’s City Hall and the Mostar Bridge in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
However, the cases covered by the ICTY are only part of the much larger practice of targeting history and memory in the countries of former Yugoslavia. The international community, therefore, needs to tackle this issue with more consistency and with a much larger involvement of local communities and local heritage stakeholders concerned. This is indispensable for contributing to the on-going reconciliation process in the wider region of the Western Balkans.

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