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Minister of State Böhmer welcomes ICC ruling on the protection of cultural property

18.08.2017

Watershed in the protection of cultural property: the population is to receive 2.7 million euros in compensation for the destruction of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. In this connection, Minister of State Maria Böhmer, Special Representative of the Federal Foreign Office for UNESCO World Heritage, UNESCO Cultural Conventions and UNESCO Education and Science Programmes, issued the following statement today (18 August):

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has brought about a watershed and sent a strong message in favour of the protection of cultural heritage. Cultural monuments and cultural heritage sites give people roots as well as an identity. Their destruction is therefore also an attack on the dignity and faith of society, extinguishing a part of humanity’s shared cultural consciousness forever. The perpetrators inflict economic and, above all, serious psychological harm on a community. People in Timbuktu and in the whole of Mali are to receive compensation.

Protection of the world’s cultural heritage remains a considerable challenge for us in conflict-ridden times such as these, and all sections of the international community must therefore pull in the same direction. I called for this back in 2015 when I was President of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. During my term of office, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee strongly condemned the destruction of world cultural heritage as a potential war crime in the Bonn Declaration. In response to our joint initiative with Iraq, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution in 2015 stating that the destruction of world cultural heritage could not be justified by any religion and should be regarded as a war crime. These decisions played a major role in bringing about the ICC proceedings.

At the session of the World Heritage Committee in Bonn in 2015, I presented the special prize of the UNESCO Director-General to the masons of Timbuktu for their work in restoring destroyed buildings. It was a moving moment: without the dedication of masons in Mali, the reconstruction of the mausoleums destroyed by radical Islamists would not have been possible and this world cultural heritage would have been lost forever.

Background information:

The Malian Islamist al-Mahdi is liable for damages amounting to 2.7 million euros in connection with the destruction of UNESCO World Heritage Site buildings in Timbuktu. This was decided in The Hague yesterday by a division of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Al-Mahdi had been convicted and sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment back in 2016 for his involvement in the destruction of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Germany is supporting the preservation of cultural heritage around the world and works for greater protection in international fora. The Federal Foreign Office provided support for a clandestine rescue that saved 285,000 precious manuscripts from the World Heritage Site in Timbuktu from destruction and transported them to Bamako. The Federal Foreign Office is also supporting international efforts to set up a modern archive in order to safeguard the manuscripts’ rightful place in humanity’s cultural heritage. At the session of the World Heritage Committee in Bonn in 2015, Minister of State Böhmer presented awards to representatives of the Timbuktu guild of masons, who had restored mausoleums of traditional mud construction badly damaged in 2012.

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