News

Timbuktu’s Cultural Artifacts at Risk as Mali Crisis Grows

A Tuareg nomad stands near the 13th century mosque at Timbuktu, Mali (file photo).
A Tuareg nomad stands near the 13th century mosque at Timbuktu, Mali (file photo).

Multimedia

Audio
Ricci Shryock

With rebel groups in northern Mali in control of the ancient city of Timbuktu, international groups are raising concerns about the many cultural sites housed at the legendary UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The director of the United Nations agency dedicated to education, science and culture (UNESCO), released a statement about her concern for the "heritage treasures."

“The recent takeover of these cities by the Tuareg rebels could have damaging effects on the management and conservation of the three mosques and 16 mausoleums of Timbuktu, as well as the Tomb of Askia in Gao,” read the statement by Director Irina Bokoba.

Mary Ellen O'Connell, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame who specializes in international art law, said the city was founded around the fifth century and grew into an Islamic and academic hub in the 15th century.  She said buildings and artifacts from Timbuktu’s golden age remain in the city today.

“Because it has been a seat of learning all this time, there are ancient manuscripts there and they’re scattered around the town,” she said.

According to O’Connell, there is recognized “customary international law that has grown out of the Geneva Conventions,” that dictates that destroying these artifacts is a crime.

“We are confident in the world of international law that rebels and government forces must respect and go out of their way not to damage in anyway the manuscripts, documents or the buildings related to this priceless cultural heritage,” she said.

She added that prevention of artifact destruction is the main priority, but if groups do destroy property, they could be subject to charges – though it is tricky to determine who would hold them accountable.

She says, among others, Red Cross observers routinely urge armed groups to respect international law.

But the situation in Timbuktu is further complicated because it is an internal conflict, meaning some of the international laws may not apply. It raises the question: do local populations have the right to destroy local sites, even if the international community has deemed them valuable to world heritage? O’Connell says no.

“Significant fighting within a country is of interest to international law,” O’Connell said. “Every country has the ability and even the obligation to make sure that if somebody is responsible for the destruction of the cultural heritage, they bring them to justice.”

Heavily armed rebels arrived in northern Mali after the fall of neighboring Libya and launched an insurgency in mid-January. Tuareg separatists have been seeking autonomy for decades.

Government soldiers overthrew the president on March 22 after claiming they were not being sufficiently equipped to fight the rebels. The separatists have been joined by Islamist factions, though the full extent of the cooperation between the Tuareg groups and Islamic militants is unclear. 

On Tuesday, the United Nations said at least 200,000 people have fled the unrest in northern Mali, roughly half of them seeking refuge in neighboring Burkina Faso and Mauritania.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs