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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs