[JURIST] The UNESCO World Heritage Committee [official website] said Monday that extremist groups’ destruction of antiquities and heritage sites in conflict zones could amount to war crimes. The committee noted particularly the Islamic State’s (IS) [JURIST backgrounder] destruction of the ancient city of Hatra in Iraq, and was deeply concerned about the group’s capture of Palmyra in May. Both cities are UNESCO World Heritage sites, and carry much archaeological significance. The committee adopted a resolution [materials] which states in part that “[i]ntentional attacks against buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science or charitable purposes and historic monuments may amount to war crimes”. The resolution also expressed UNESCO’s deep shock and alarm at the repeated attacks by IS “aimed at destroying cultural diversity through deliberate targeting of individuals and communities on the basis of cultural, ethnic or religious background, as well as places of worship, memory and learning” as well as looting and excavations that “seriously undermine irreplaceable cultural treasures”.
IS, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), has caused increasing international alarm over its human rights abuses [JURIST report] since its insurgence into Syria and Iraq in 2013. In March, the UN released a report [JURIST report] saying that other actions by IS may be war crimes. In February, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights jointly released a report [JURIST report] detailing violations against Iraqi civilians under the spread of IS. Also in February IS led suicide bombings in eastern Libya, killing at least 40 people [JURIST report] and injuring 70 more. IS said this was the group’s way of retaliating against Egyptian airstrikes protesting the IS presence in Northern Africa. In December the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights [official website] reported that the IS executed [JURIST report] 1,878 people in Syria between June and December. February’s suicide bombings indicate that the number of executions continues to increase. That month the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned [JURIST report] the groups beheading of 21 Coptic Christians in Syria.