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Ideological Warfare against Cultural Property: UN Strategies and Dilemmas

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With iconic cultural heritage in Afghanistan, Mali, Libya, Iraq and Syria at the mercy of Jihadi extremists, the international community’s somewhat feverish compilation of emergency measures illustrates both the sense of urgency now felt, but also how unprepared the world was to be confronted with ideological warfare against the ‘culture of the heretics.’ The laws of armed conflict, and in its wake international criminal law, provide relatively clear cut proscriptive rules against ideologically motived cultural destruction, which cannot be said of peacetime rules on cultural heritage protection. But the threat of incurring international responsibility and punishment is seen as inconsequential when the perpetrators’ driving ideology distains external laws. On UN level, the Security Council has resorted to a global trade ban to target two birds with one stone: to dry-up is’s source of income through illicit trade in Iraqi and Syrian antiquities and to preserve artefacts by making illicit excavation and pillaging economically unattractive. Unfortunately the situation on the ground, with its many uncertainties regarding domestic implementation means the effectiveness of this measure is in abeyance.


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