[JURIST] Irina Bokova, the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) [official website], on Monday condemned [press release] the destruction of Palmyra’s ancient temple of Baalshamin by Islamic State (IS) militants, labeling it a war crime. The site was demolished by the Daesh group one week after the killing of Professor Khaled al-Assaad, the archaeologist in charge of caring for the ruins for four decades. Bokova said that “[t]he systematic destruction of cultural symbols embodying Syrian cultural diversity reveals the true intent of such attacks, which is to deprive the Syrian people of its knowledge, identity, and history.” The structure, built nearly 2,000 years ago and considered to be “one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world,” was blown up on August 23. Bokova said she considers this event to be one of “cultural cleansing” and called on the international community to stand against such acts.
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 saying that other actions by IS may be war crimes [JURIST report]. 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.