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Contested Meanings: Timbuktu and the prosecution of destruction of cultural heritage as war crimes

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 June 2020


Following the attacks in Timbuktu in 2012, the ICC’s Al Mahdi case became the first instance where one perpetrator was solely charged with the war crime of destruction of cultural heritage. The ICC prioritized the crimes against cultural heritage at the expense of other types of atrocities in Northern Mali for two reasons: expediency, and the convergence of interests between the Court, the Malian state, and the international community. This study finds that the international community, the state, and the local community do not have the same conceptions and approaches regarding cultural heritage, its protection, or its value.



A la suite de la destruction des mausolées de Tombouctou en 2012, la Cour pénale internationale se saisit du cas de Al Mahdi, qui devint ainsi le premier suspect à être jugé du seul crime de guerre de destruction de patrimoine culturel devant une juridiction internationale. La cour s’est focalisée sur ce crime contre le patrimoine culturel, délaissant ainsi les autres crimes commis au nord du Mali durant la crise de 2012-2013 pour deux raisons principales : la convenance, et la convergence de ses intérêts d’une part, et ceux de l’état malien et de la communauté internationale d’autre part. Cet article conclut que la communauté internationale, l’état malien, et les populations locales n’ont pas la même conception du patrimoine culturel, sa protection, et sa valeur.



No seguimento dos ataques perpetrados em Timbuktu em 2012, o Tribunal Penal Internacional (TPI) procedeu ao julgamento de Al Mahdi, naquele que foi o primeiro processo por crimes de guerra de destruição de património cultural envolvendo um único arguido. Duas razões explicam que o TPI tenha atribuído prioridade aos crimes perpetrados contra o património cultural, em detrimento de outro tipo de atrocidades cometidas no norte do Mali: por um lado, a prudência; por outro, a convergência de interesses entre o TPI, o Estado maliano e a comunidade internacional. O presente estudo conclui que a comunidade internacional, o Estado e a comunidade local não partilham as mesmas conceções e abordagens relativamente ao património cultural, à sua proteção e ao seu valor.

© The Author(s) 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of African Studies Association

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