8 March, 2015
Dear Ambassador Jim McLay and The Honourable Murray McCully,
Destruction of Cultural Heritage by ISIS
I address this open letter to you in your capacities as the New Zealand's representative on the United Nation's Security Council, and as New Zealand's Foreign Minister respectively.
Given New Zealand's independent voice as a member of the Security Council, I believe that you should use the opportunity now afforded New Zealand to seek an immediate and urgent debate by the Security Council concerning the war crimes being committed in Syria by the Islamic State group, as they relate to the wanton destruction of irreplaceable cultural heritage and antiquities by ISIS.
Whilst not for a moment overlooking or minimising the horrific crimes being committed, it seems daily, by ISIS against civilians, refugees, displaced persons, peoples of other faiths and fellow Muslims, the offences ISIS is committing against the world's irreplaceable cultural heritage are appalling, irreversible and, it seems increasing in both frequency and seriousness. The United Nations generally, and the Security Council itself, must take real and effective action.
In just the last few days it was, first, the museum at Mosul. Then the destruction of Nimrud, the ancient city of the Kings of the Assyrians. Just today, news is filtering out of the likely additional and tragic destruction of Hatra.
A golden thread runs through all the efforts that have, over decades, been made to protect the cultural heritage of all humankind from the ravages of war. Two out of many examples will suffice. The Preamble to the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict records:
“Being convinced that damage to cultural property belonging to any people whatsoever means damage to the cultural heritage of all mankind...”
When the International War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia was established by the United Nations Resolution 827 on 25 May 1993, specific jurisdiction was conferred to prosecute violations of the Laws or Customs of War, and in particular:
“seizure of, destruction or wilful damage done to institutions dedicated to religion, charity and education, the arts and sciences, historic monuments and works of art and science.”
I urge New Zealand to call for a immediate and urgent debate in the Security Council, and for the Council thereafter to request or direct the International Criminal Court that immediate indictments be issued to bring those responsible for cultural heritage war crimes in and around Syria and Iraq, or alternatively for the Security Council to mandate the immediate establishment of an Ad Hoc War Crimes Tribunal to investigate and prosecute war crimes committed during the Syrian/Iraq/ISIS conflict, including (but of course not limited to) crimes against humanity, and war crimes committed, by the destruction of humankind's shared and irreplaceable cultural heritage both within Syria and Iraq, and within the territory controlled by ISIS.
Judge Arthur Tompkins.
District Court Judge
Trustee and Faculty Member, Association for Research into Crimes against Art