ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, publishes Policy on Cultural Heritage: “Cultural heritage is the repository of the human experience throughout the ages. To protect it, is to pay homage to the basic fabric of civilisation and civilizational practice.”
The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court ("ICC" or the "Court'), Mrs Fatou Bensouda, today officially published the Policy on Cultural Heritage of the Office of the Prosecutor (the ''Office'').
The urgent need to act decisively to protect cultural heritage in times of war and conflict has driven the effort to produce this Policy. Mindful that wilful attacks on cultural heritage are a pervasive feature of conflict, and drawing upon the Preamble of the Rome Statute, the Prosecutor recalled that "[a]ll peoples are united by common bonds, their cultures pieced together in a shared heritage […] and this delicate mosaic may be shattered at any time."
The Office successfully brought charges relating to cultural heritage in September 2015, in the case against Mr Al Mahdi, emanating from its investigations in the Situation in Mali. The accused was found guilty by the Judges of the ICC in September 2016. The Office equally brought relevant charges in the Al Hassan case. Both cases recognise the importance of investigating and prosecuting crimes against or affecting cultural heritage. Through this Policy, the Office commits to continuing to do so in all cases across situations under investigation where the evidence supports such charges in accordance with its mandate under the Statute.
The development of this Policy is in line with the Office's Strategic Plan to pay particular attention to crimes against or affecting cultural heritage and the commitment to systematically investigate and prosecute such crimes. The Policy aims, among other objectives, to enhance clarity on the application of the legal framework, including for staff of the Office, through all stages of the Office's activities.
It is the by-product of consultations with subject matter experts and a broad range of partners, in recognition of the Office's resolve that "an effective strategy to address the destruction of cultural heritage requires a multi-faceted and collaborative approach."
Round table consultations to initiate the drafting process took place with a group of eminent external experts, including from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization ("UNESCO"), in 2017. Written consultations with States Parties, civil society representatives and others followed the issuance by the Office of a draft policy in March of this year, inviting comments for its independent consideration. During this process, the Office has enjoyed close collaboration with UNESCO, and benefited from the insights of, inter alia, States Parties, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights, the International Committee of the Red Cross, Blue Shield International, civil society, academics and academic institutions and other external partners.
''Cultural heritage constitutes a unique and important testimony of the culture and identities of peoples and the degradation and destruction of cultural heritage constitutes a great loss to those communities which are directly affected, as well as to the international community as a whole'', said the Prosecutor. ''It is the repository of the human experience throughout the ages. To protect it, is to pay homage to the basic fabric of civilisation and civilizational practice."
In welcoming the Policy, Director-General of UNESCO, Ms Audrey Azoulay stated that: "[t]he protection of cultural heritage under international law is an integral part of peace building and lasting peace. All efforts to strengthen the protection of cultural heritage, in line with the values of the United Nations and the UNESCO conventions, are important."
As part of its commitment under the Policy, the Office will enhance its efforts to identify, support, and engage with initiatives addressing instances of crimes against or affecting cultural heritage. This includes by responding, where possible and in conformity with the Rome Statute, to requests for assistance from States to access information collected by the Office which might assist them in furtherance of their own investigations and prosecutions. It further includes participating, where appropriate, in coordinated efforts within the global network of investigative and prosecutorial bodies to address the scourge of such crimes.
The Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC conducts independent and impartial preliminary examinations, investigations and prosecutions of the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression. Since 2003, the Office has been conducting investigations in multiple situations within the ICC's jurisdiction, namely in Uganda; the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Darfur, Sudan; the Central African Republic (two distinct situations); Kenya; Libya; Côte d'Ivoire; Mali; Georgia, Burundi; Bangladesh/Myanmar, Afghanistan (subject to a pending article 18 deferral request) and Palestine. The Office is also currently conducting preliminary examinations relating to the situations in Bolivia; Colombia; Guinea; Venezuela I; and Venezuela II; and has completed its preliminary examinations of the situations in Ukraine and Nigeria, which are pending requests to seek authorisation to proceed to investigation.