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.
Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Interneti
X
Mike O'Sullivan
June 30, 2015 8:20 PM
Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs