Not just walls and stones : victims of crime against cultural heritage in an armed conflict

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Title: Not just walls and stones : victims of crime against cultural heritage in an armed conflict
Author: Koverola, Sofia
Other contributor: Helsingin yliopisto, Oikeustieteellinen tiedekunta
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Law
Helsingfors universitet, Juridiska fakulteten
Publisher: Helsingin yliopisto
Date: 2020
Language: eng
Thesis level: master's thesis
Discipline: Kansainvälinen oikeus
International law
Abstract: This research focuses on crimes against cultural heritage and intends to identify the victims of these crimes by examining the current legal framework and case-law. As the main question consists of an inquiry of who is being violated when cultural heritage is destroyed, the victims here are not the damaged buildings itself but people of different communities. Attacks against cultural heritage have an extensive influence on both individual and collective identity, due to its direct link between the physical violation of property and the human dimension. Despite the extensive research in the field of international cultural heritage law, the situation surrounding the classification of victims in this particular context still needs clarification. This thesis will explain the specific characteristics of these types of victims and investigate what the unique characteristics of cultural heritage can bring to the theoretical construction of victims in general. To highlight the specific nature of these crimes, this thesis pays particular attention to how cultural heritage issues are regulated under current international law and how the current legal framework categorises the crimes against cultural heritage. The subject is limited to situations where tangible cultural heritage is destroyed during an armed conflict. The aim is to present the current international legal framework regarding cultural heritage protection and to find out how these crimes are assessed both in international treaties and the case-law of international courts. The research will explain in general terms how international treaty law protects the cultural heritage of all humankind and what forms its legal basis. This thesis will introduce the question of whether the crimes against cultural heritage are assessed as a crime against property or crime against people. The research is conducted by emphasising a doctrinal method and case study analysis with characteristics of critical approach. Through the case study approach, it is possible to map out the elements that the International Criminal Court has been emphasising when interpreting the victims of cultural heritage crimes. The most significant legal case of for this research is the case of Al Mahdi in ICC: it is the first case that defines the victims of these crimes and from this perspective showcases how much damage cultural heritage destruction can produce. Regarding the previous legal cases when the cultural heritage has been destroyed, this thesis will also describe the case-law of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Ultimately, the thesis will find out who are the victims of cultural heritage crime and how what is the legal basis of their status. This thesis presents the distinctive categories of cultural heritage victims and examines what forms the destruction can take on for different groups. The assessment is primarily based on the case of Al Mahdi, but also the general theory about the legal position of victims in international criminal law framework will be presented. Particular attention will be paid to the international community as a victim and the role of UNESCO as its representative. Also, the phenomenon of iconoclasm is reflected to find out what legal consequences to consider if the damaging actions would be categorised as iconoclastic. Therefore, in order to effectively safeguard the heritage of all humankind, the international community needs to recognise that cultural heritage crime is always a serious violation of international law that has severe effects on people on various levels.
Subject: Cultural Heritage Crime
Destruction of Cultural Heritage
International Cultural Heritage Law
Victims of Crime Against Cultural Heritage

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