Showing posts with label art crime in war. Show all posts
Showing posts with label art crime in war. Show all posts

February 20, 2019

Interview with open source intelligence analyst Sam Hardy


By Edgar Tijhuis

This year, the ARCA Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection will be held from May 30 through August 15, 2019 in the beautiful heart of Umbria in Amelia, Italy. In the months leading up to the start of the program, I'm speaking with all course professors on the program as well as those who are guest lecturers or researching at ARCA. This week I speak with archaeologist and Open source intelligence analyst Sam Hardy, one of the trainers on the Countering Antiquities Trafficking in the Mashreq program in the Middle East, in which ARCA worked with UNESCO and other UNESCO partners to train heritage specialists working in the Middle East.


Can you tell us something about your background and work?

I did a BA in Archaeology and Prehistory at the University of Sheffield, where I developed an interest in the relationship between archaeological practice and human rights in general and the past and present of South-Eastern Europe in particular. Then I did an MA in Cultural Heritage Studies at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, where I started to focus on the treatment of cultural property during crisis and conflict.

During my MSc-DPhil at the University of Sussex, a series of accidents led me from attempting to explore peace education at historic sites in first Kosovo then Cyprus, to exploring destruction and propaganda and, since the crimes were interconnected, looting in Cyprus. As open-source research into destruction - like that done by Bellingcat - and particularly into trafficking is still an emerging field, there was no career path to follow, at least not one that was defined.

Still, I developed a specialism in open-source research (that pieces together new understandings from disparate, publicly-accessible sources), focused on conflict antiquities trafficking (trafficking of, and other profiteering from, cultural goods that finance political violence), connected with ARCA - and collaborated with Lynda Albertson in checking claims of damage to sites in Syria and Iraq - then got contracts from the American University of Rome, Global Witness, UNESCO and ICOM followed by fellowships from Koç University in Turkey and UCL Qatar.

I would like to note, it was only thanks to the support of friends from the Institute of Archaeology, and the women who've been my bosses throughout my career, that I managed to stay in the profession. For women who are considering a career in this field, they should know that they would be joining a rich history of "trowelblazers", are the majority in archaeology and heritage and are earning the same as men.

All of this has somehow led me to the dream job that I'm about to start at the Norwegian Institute in Rome, within the Heritage Experience Initiative of the University of Oslo, where I'm going to be the Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in Cultural Heritage and Conflicts. Over the next three years, I'm going to explore the relationship between antiquities trafficking and political violence in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, from the politics of policing, to the involvement of organised criminals and armed groups (including state forces), to the exploitation of the refugee crisis, and to the deployment of propaganda.

What do you do at ARCA?

I've been fortunate enough to work with ARCA on the Countering Antiquities Trafficking in the Mashreq training through UNESCO for cultural heritage professionals and law enforcement agents from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey, which has helped local efforts to combat trafficking across the region. I also co-taught one of the courses in 2018 on open source research methods.  When I'm not indulging my interest in the most bizarre features of the subject, like Russian propaganda, I've also been able to collaborate with others in and through ARCA to find and check evidence in ongoing research.

In anticipation of the ARCA program, what book, article, or movie would you recommend to participants?

One academic article I'd recommend is "uncovering the illicit traffic of Russian ancient icons from Russia to Germany" by Laure Coupillaud Szustakowski, who took the ARCA programme and whose paper I first heard at the ARCA conference. Some of my work depends on risky journalism. I would recommend Özgen Acar and Melik Kaylan's investigations into organised crime in Turkey and beyond from 1988 and 1990 (in English), which I still use now, but they're only really accessible as difficult-to-read archive copies. More recent investigations include those by Esther Saoub and her colleagues on looting in Syria (in German), by Mike Giglio and Munzer al-Awad on trafficking out of Syria (in English), by Benoit Faucon and his colleagues on dealing in antiquities from Syria (in English) and by Frédéric Loore on the ransoming of stolen works of art by the terrorists who attacked Paris and Brussels (in French).

Which course in the program would you love to follow yourself and why?

I've had the chance to listen and learn when Dick Drent and Dick Ellis co-taught during the ARCA-UNESCO training with me. Despite focusing on different parts of the trade in different countries and using different methods, Christos Tsirogiannis and I have developed a common interest in certain shady characters, so it'd be great to hear him explain the intricacies of his work.

Is there anything you can recommend for future participants to do in Amelia or Umbria? 

Amelia is a foodie treat for me and I'm not even a foodie. Not eating dairy can really limit your options, especially in Italy, but the Amerini (the name for local town folk) make allergy-friendly food that tastes great - and I once got to be the sous-chef for a Syrian-Iraqi feast. I'd get in trouble with one friend or another for suggesting Spritz, either because it's from Venice or because it dilutes Prosecco, but I can safely and sincerely recommend the local wines.

What is your experience with the yearly ARCA conference in June. 

There's always interesting research, new contacts and old friends - I look forward to it every year.


For a detailed prospectus and application materials or for general questions about this postgraduate program please contact us at education@artcrimeresearch.org


Edgar Tijhuis serves as the Academic Director at ARCA and is a visiting scholar at the Institute of Criminology in Ljubljana. He is responsible for the postgraduate certificate program in the study of art crime and cultural heritage protection and since 2009, has taught criminology modules within the ARCA program.

February 8, 2019

Judge Tompkins returns to Amelia to this summer to teach "Art Crime in War” at ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection

By Edgar Tijhuis


This year, the ARCA Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection will be held from May 30 through August 14, 2019 in the beautiful heart of Umbria in Amelia, Italy. In the months leading up to the start of the program, this year’s professors will be interviewed. In this one, I am speaking with Arthur Tompkins from New Zealand, a judge and specialist on art crimes during war.



Can you tell us something about your background and work?

Certainly! I am a Judge in New Zealand, based in Wellington. In my day job I try both criminal and civil cases, plus I sit on the NZ Parole Board. I have been a judge for over 20 years now, and I still enjoy my job. I like the variety, the unexpectedness of each day, and the interaction with the whole cross-section of the community I serve.

I have been coming to teach Art in War, at Amelia, since 2010. I first visited in 2009, when the first ARCA program was underway, to present at the Art Crime Conference, Noah Charney asked me to come back the next year to teach my course, and the rest is history...

What do you feel is the most relevant part of your course? 

I like to think that over the five days of my course - first the historical survey when we cover 25 centuries of armed conflict, from the Classical World through to Iraq and Syria, and many conflicts in between, and then the response of the international and private legal systems to what has occurred - discerning the common features of the arc of art crime in war are very relevant. The ways in which, during war, art is displaced, lost, destroyed, stolen, and sometimes saved, vary enormously in their individual circumstances, but underlying the variety is the sameness of it: the intensely symbolic way in which art is viewed by combatants, who seek to use (or destroy) art to serve their wider purpose. So, despite the variation of circumstances, there are common features which happen over and over again - hence the need to learn the lessons of history, and to protect the art anew in the face of every new conflict.

What do you hope participants will get out of your course? 

I hope that by the end of the course the participants will have an appreciation both of the wide sweep of human history, as manifested by humankind's many conflicts, and against that backdrop the way that humankind's great art has been fought over, pursued, made vulnerable, and (perhaps not as often as we would like) made secure so that it survives the tempest swirling around it. And I hope that, when faced with the outbreak of a new conflict, thy will come to realise that the inevitable threat to the art caught up by the red-hot rake of the battle-line is not new, that there are valuable lessons to be learned from past mistakes, and that the art can, with effort and determination and will, be protected despite the clash of arms surrounding it.

What would a typical day be like in your classroom? 

We gather in the lecture hall at the start time of the day, usually with copious bottles of water and perhaps a coffee or two, and embark on a close look at whatever part of human history we have reached that day. This will usually be done via illustrated lectures from me, interspersed with short student presentations about a number of the major art works we encounter during the day. A week or so before my class starts, I ask each participant to sign up to talk to the class about one or two artworks that we will touch on or discuss during the course. Sometimes the participants will already know about the work, perhaps they have seen it, or have some personal connection to it, other times they will come to it completely fresh. Their presentations usually summarise the history of the work and the artist, perhaps talking a bit about the place the work has in the artist's oeuvre, and what happened to it during the war that engulfed it.

We have five hours of class time each day, with that being broken up by coffee (or gelato) breaks, and a long lunch break in the heat of the middle of the day. So, although it is an intense few days, we enjoy frequent time out to recharge! During the course, each participant completes a short essay, on some aspect of art crime during war. The last part of the course is then taken up with individual students giving slightly longer presentations to the class when they talk about the essay they submitted, the art work or works, the fate of the works during war, the story of their survival, or whatever it might be. I am constantly fascinated by the wide variety of subjects they come up with each year, to research and write about.

While each year participants are very enthusiastic about your course, is there anything you learn from them in class?

The most valuable thing is that I learn to look at art with new eyes, especially during the participant presentations. Often these will cover aspects of art crime during war that we do not have time to cover in class, or only touch upon very briefly. I learn a lot during these presentations, and come away with a fresh respect for the research skills and breadth of experience of ARCA's attendees!

In anticipation of your courses, what book, article, or movie would you recommend to participants?

There have been two high-profile movies in the last few years which have been based squarely on the fate of art in war. Both are worth watching before taking my course, but for different reasons. George Clooney's Monuments Men got most of the art right, but a lot of the rest of the always fascinating story of the Monuments Men (and Women) mostly wrong. Helen Mirren's Woman in Gold did much better - getting both the art, and the surrounding tragedy of the very human story of the painting's fate (within the inevitable constraints of a two hour movie), right.

What makes the yearly ARCA program so unique? 

There are a number of aspects, I think, that make the ARCA course unique. First, the setting - the wonderful ancient town of Amelia, slightly isolated because of the absence of a railway station, is the perfect setting for a summer programme - small enough to get to know very quickly, but with a labyrinthine Old Town that constantly surprising no matter how often you have walked its twisting and turning streets and alleys and tunnels and stairs. There is always something fresh and surprising around the next corner! The town has a rhythm to its daily life that quickly propels both those involved in the ARCA program into the centre of Italian town life - the casual friendliness of the locals, the evening passeggiata, the always-open (or so its seems) cafes and bars that are so central to the community's life, and the beauty of the ancient surroundings.

Then there is the multidisciplinary faculty, drawn from a very wide spectrum of disciplines and areas of expertise, who bring decades of experience and wisdom to their respective courses. And finally there is the distilling of what, in any other setting, might be a year or more of classes, into an intense and concentrated period of time spent in Amelia - where everyone in the course is there because they really want to be there, sharing a common fascination with art and the crimes committed against it, and where everyone you meet is happy to share and to learn.

Which other course in the program would you love to follow yourself and why? 

Personally, I would be fascinated by the Museum Security course - one of the by-products of teaching art crime is that you can't just visit a museum or a gallery or an exhibition without thinking about what might happen if someone else took it into their heads to commit a crime against the art you are enjoying - a theft or an attack or some other misguided venture. So I often wonder about the unseen protections that (I hope) carefully guard the art work...and the striking of the difficult balance between accessibility - making the art open and accessible and able to be enjoyed by many visitors - and protection, which often means compelling visitors to step back and not enjoy the up-close-and-personal experience of the art that might otherwise be possible, is a dynamic and ever-changing challenge that I would love to know more about.

Is there anything you can recommend for future participants to do in Amelia or Umbria? 

Learn at least some rudimentary Italian before you arrive, enough to say hello and good morning and good evening, and to order coffee and gelato and pizza! And use that to get to know some of the locals, and experience something of their lives. I now have friends who live in Amelia, and catching up with them is one of the annual joys of my visits back to Amelia.

Judge Arthur Tompkins' writing on the
Four Horses of the Basilica of San Marco
made its way into Dan Brown's bestseller, Inferno.
Are there any funny or interesting things you experienced in Italy, outside class? 

The Italian railway system is a constant source of enjoyment, frustration, annoyance, wonder and humour, that almost never disappoints! And a visit to Venice, whilst we still can, is high on my list of recommendations - it is such an irrational and unexpected place, that should not exist, but defiantly does, and it hides a multitude of joys. Not the least of which are the Four Horses of the Basilica of San Marco, the artwork with the longest history of crimes being committed against them (roughly 2500 years, give or take a few centuries). Come take my course to learn their fascinating story!  Venice was also the home of the largest stolen painting on public display anywhere in the world - Veronese's Wedding at Cana, taken from the refectory of the Benedictine monastery on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore by Napoleon, transported to the Louvre (after being cut into several pieces), and hung there, up until recently, opposite the Mona Lisa, where it used to get overlooked by thousands every day!

What is your experience with the yearly ARCA conference in June?

I can't always get to the conference, but when I do the sheer breadth of experience and knowledge on display year after year is wonderful - ARCA does a great job of gathering together the foremost specialists in the fight against art crime from around the world, and provides a forum for both specialist presentations, and the free exchange of information, of views, of contacts, and renewing and making friendships. And because the conference is based in Amelia, the warmth of the welcome from the town is an added highlight - and introducing newcomers to the joys of Amelia, and discovering new joys in the process, is always memorable!


For a detailed prospectus and application materials or for general questions about this postgraduate program please contact us at education@artcrimeresearch.org


Edgar Tijhuis serves as the Academic Director at ARCA and is a visiting scholar at the Institute of Criminology in Ljubljana. He is responsible for the postgraduate certificate program in the study of art crime and cultural heritage protection and since 2009, has taught criminology modules within the ARCA program.

March 4, 2018

Art Crime Book Review: Plundering Beauty: A History of Art Crime during War

 Book Title: Plundering Beauty: A History of Art Crime during War
Author: Arthur Tompkins

Publisher: Lund Humphries, March 2018
Book Reviewer: Penelope Jackson

The cover says it all.  A lone American soldier is dwarfed by the surrounding stash of bundles, that look suspiciously like paintings, in a church at the Weissenburg-Guzenhausen Residence at Ellingen, Germany, in 1945. The juxtaposition of the church’s lavish interior - used as storage for plundered art - with the soldier is a poignant reminder of the scale of wartime seizures and the enormity of a problem that is as old as art itself and continues to the present day.  This image is on the cover of Arthur Tompkins’ Plundering Beauty: A History of Art Crime during War, an epic read about the victims of war, art and cultural heritage.

Many readers will personally know, or know of Arthur Tompkins, for his scholarship about art crime during war.  For several years Tompkins has taught at home (New Zealand) and abroad through the ARCA postgraduate program in art crime and cultural heritage protection (Italy) on this topic and his latest book brings together years of research, thought, and analysis about the art crimes committed during war. 

Plundering Beauty is a long journey of crimes waged on art.  Beginning with exploring the nuances of why art crimes are committed during war, Tompkins embarks on a journey beginning 2000 years ago in Rome.  Bit by bit, he un-packages this history of atrocities inflicted on art, both individual pieces as well as collections.  Significant (and now famous because of their chequered past) artworks have always been pawns in much bigger context of war booty and in Plundering Beauty we are presented case after case as evidence of this.  

Plundering Beauty’s catalogue of art crimes continues through to the present day, and not surprisingly, demonstrates the failure of humankind to learn from earlier histories.  We are familiar with the crimes committed in present-day Syria and Iraq, and Tompkins’ book is a brutal reminder of these as he provides us with a much wider and broader context, and specific art and cultural object crimes.  

Plundering Beauty does not pretend to be a complete history of art crimes committed during war (I couldn’t help but think while reading this new narrative about all the art crimes committed during war that we do not know about, or have an inkling of but do not know the details of).  What Tompkins does provide us with is a cross-section of case studies over time.  Wherever there is an art history there is a history of art crime and more often than not, crimes that are bound up in war.  Tompkins provides an alternative art history that for so long was ignored by writers.  

I get the sense that Tompkins has his clear favourites, and why shouldn’t he?  He is passionate about his subject matter and it shows.  The Four Horses of the Basilica of St Mark and Veronese’s The Wedding at Cana are up there.  It is not always about the actual artwork being discussed but rather the back-stories and layers of unravelling necessary to try and see reasons for such crimes.  Discussed in detail, yet in a very readable manner, Tompkins’ attention to detail and leaving no stone unturned is in part due to his day job – a judge.  And as the reader you feel satisfied with how he presents each case.  

A reminder though, is that this a book about crime, and as always with crime, not all cases are solved.  For example, Raphael’s Portrait of a Young Man sadly remains at large.  Other artworks are re-discovered or have closure many years after the original crime.  Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer is a case in point.  The work, seized by the Nazis during World War II was eventually reunited with the owner’s heirs in 2006 after what Tompkins describes as a tortuous legal battle fought in both Austria and the United States.

The narrative is chronological making it easier to align with world history and art history, as written in the Western tradition.  Plundering Beauty also reveals the unfair nature of art crimes during war.  Take Johannes Vermeer for instance.  He only painted approximately 35 works total during his entire working career and yet three feature in this book.  Perhaps this is because they’re stunning works, much adored and highly desirable.  It could be that they are small and therefore easy to plunder.  Tompkins inspires his reader to ruminate on such matters, meaning the book’s contents stay with you long after you’ve finished reading it.  

Illustrated with 52 colour images, Plundering Beauty is well presented.  Tompkins, with his usual vigour (he’s also an endurance athlete) and rigour, has produced a book that is both a scholarly volume and is very accessible for those uninitiated about art crime.  Collectively, wartime art crimes are colossal, seen in the evidence set out clearly in Plundering Beauty.  As Tompkins eloquently notes in his introduction:

The stories of the crimes committed against art during war, the saving and return of art after long and unforeseen journeys, and the villains and the heroes of those episodes, are the stories that Plundering Beauty tells. (p.13)

The irony in the title’s principal words, Plundering Beauty, is very purposeful; that humankind has victimised their most precious objects in a variety of ways for centuries, and continue to do so, should be a universal lesson going forward. Underpinning most publications about art crime in recent years are strategies around curbing art crimes, present and future.  Tompkins joins this tradition when he laments in his final sentence in relation to Iraq and Syria,

But sadly the raging assault on the world’s art and cultural heritage during war continues. (p.168)

September 5, 2017

Iraqi pawns and an American chess player

Image Credit: U.S. Embassy Baghdad

The United States has returned dictator Saddam Hussein’s chess set to the Iraqi government in Baghdad but has not given much in the way of details as to who the set had been stolen by or where it has been recovered.

Image Credit:
U.S. Embassy Baghdad

The gameboard and its pieces went missing in 2003.  U.S. coalition forces invaded Iraq in an operation dubbed Operation Iraqi Freedom between March 20th and May 2003 signalling the start of the Iraq War.  Hussein’s Ba'athist Iraqi government was deposed less than a month later.   Hussein himself was captured in December 13, 2003 and was executed in December 2006, having been convicted of crimes against humanity by the Iraqi Special Tribunal.

Image Credit:
U.S. Embassy Baghdad
Whoever made off with this little piece of costly war booty had a good eye, even if it appears that the object was not treated gently as it made its passage from the Middle East to the United States. 

A similar Austro-Hungarian enamelled, parcel-gilt silver and stone-inset chess set was sold at Sotheby’s in its New York April 22, 2010 auction for $35,000


Another set sold at Doyle's, New York, Belle Epoque sale on September 23, 2009, lot 209 ($28,125). Provenance: Property from a Private Collection, Fontana, CA. Condition. 

Five years ago a Christie’s consignor (property of a private collector in Pittsburg) made a healthy profit during its New York April 18, 2012 auction selling theirs for $32,500.


All proving that years after the invasion, auction houses in the U.S. wouldn't have had any trouble selling this Saddam-era bauble, which, like many others, may be traceable back to U.S. government employees and contractors who took items as souvenirs or war trophies. 

March 15, 2017

Fighting Art Trafficking and Art Crime in Bosnia: the work of CPKU


By: Helen Walasek

The importance of South East Europe as a major route for the illicit trafficking of looted and stolen art and antiquities, as well as a source region itself is recognised by international art crime researchers and professionals. However, the activities of the Tuzla-based Center Against Trafficking in Works of Art (Centar Protiv Krijumčarenja Umjetninama – CPKU), the only organisation in Bosnia-Herzegovina dedicated to documenting and fighting art crime, is not as well-known as it should be. 

CPKU is also playing a role in focusing attention on one of the great unanswered questions of the 1992–1995 Bosnian War: that of the enormous amount of cultural property looted during the conflict. This has never been adequately addressed, either with regard to the detailed documentation of missing objects, or investigation of the movement, destination and whereabouts of looted cultural property. Nor (so far as the author is aware) have any formal claims for restitution of looted cultural property been made by governmental or institutional authorities. 

Since the centre was established in December 2014, CPKU has worked to establish a national system of coordination and cooperation on art crime between national and international agencies and owners of cultural property (both public and private). Yet despite being the only state-wide organisation working in the field, the centre is often told by international bodies that as an NGO it does not have the authority to deal with these issues. However, as CPKU’s founder-director Dženan Jusufović has pointed out, official bodies which should be dealing with such issues, simply aren’t. Nevertheless, CPKU is having a significant impact in creating a greater awareness of the issue in official bodies and continues to forge a growing number of links with law enforcement and judicial agencies in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In October 2015 CPKU convened its first major event, a roundtable conference on the illicit traffic in art in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which brought together over 40 representatives from key stakeholders engaged in the fight against organised crime and war crimes, including international, national and entity agencies and law enforcement bodies, as well as from cultural institutions such as museums and galleries, alongside private collectors and NGOs.

Growing out of the conference were calls for the creation of a national database of missing works of art and other cultural property, for training in art crime for law enforcement officers, prosecutors and the judiciary, and for the formation of specialised art crimes units. Parallel with this, the holders of cultural goods (whether public or private) were urged to assist in the fight against the illicit traffic in cultural property by regularly updating their documentation of objects (including making good quality photographic documentation). 

Since then CPKU has produced guidelines for documenting works of art and reporting thefts, as well as providing detailed instructions on the best ways of photographing objects for documentation purposes (both downloadable from the CPKU website). Last year it published the first manual (also downloadable ) on the illicit art trade in Bosnia-Herzegovina which incorporates information on the legal international and national legal framework, how art is trafficked across the country and the region, and suggested preventive measures, as well as reproducing the sample documentation instructions.

A public awareness-raising event/performance, Giants of Art (Velikani Likovne Umjetnosti), was held in partnership with the National Gallery of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Association of Artists of Bosnia-Herzegovina at the Sarajevo-based gallery in April 2016 to alert the wider public to the issue of missing works of art – some of which had no photographic documentation.

All these initiatives have been supported by CPKU’s principal partner, the French Embassy in Sarajevo. The embassy was also instrumental in bringing Corinne Chartrelle, Deputy Head of France’s L'Office Central de Lutte Contre le Trafic de Biens Culturels (OCBC), to speak at a recent CPKU seminar on the illicit art market at the headquarters of the Centre for Judicial and Prosecutorial Training of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (CEST).

By May 2017 CPKU hopes to release a database of artworks missing or stolen from Bosnia-Herzegovina. Dženan Jusufović has noted that only thirteen cases of stolen artwork from Bosnia are registered on Interpol’s database of stolen art, despite that thousands of items of cultural property disappeared during or in the aftermath of the 1992–1995 war.

In addition to ongoing support from the French Embassy, CPKU also has partnerships or cooperation with national and international bodies and institutions, including ICOM Observatory, Interpol, UNESCO, ICOM Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Centre for Judicial and Prosecutorial Training of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (CEST), the British Council, the National Gallery of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Historical Museum of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Association of Artists of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Faculty of Law at University of Tuzla, the NGO Akcija, and other museums, galleries, heritage institutions and legal-judicial bodies. 

For further information contact:
Centar Protiv Krijumčarenja Umjetninama (CPKU)
Atelje Ismet Mujezinović
Klosterska 19
75000 Tuzla 
Bosnia-Herzegovina

Email: cpkubih [at] gmail [dot] com
Phone: +387 61 185 733
Website: www.cpku.org
Facebook: Centar-protiv-krijumčarenja-umjetninama

November 22, 2016

Targeting History and Memory: A new website explores the prosecution of crimes against cultural and religious property


A new website explores the prosecution of crimes 
against cultural and religious property by the 
International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY)
By: Helen Walasek

A new resource-rich website exploring the prosecution of crimes against cultural heritage during conflict has just been launched. Targeting History and Memory comprehensively documents for the first time how the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) investigated, reconstructed and prosecuted the intentional destruction of cultural, historical and religious property committed during the Wars of Yugoslav Succession of the 1990s. Targeting History and Memory was produced by SENSE Centre for Transitional Justice, which in its previous incarnation as SENSE News Agency has offered comprehensive and balanced coverage of the work of the ICTY since 1998.

Gjakova Hadum Quran School, Kosovo, 1999
The almost overwhelming number of deliberate attacks on cultural and religious property in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and finally, Kosovo, amounted to the greatest destruction of cultural heritage seen in Europe since World War Two. The devastation – one of the defining features of the conflicts – took place chiefly during violent campaigns of ethnic cleansing, campaigns waged against civilians as an integral part of attempts to carve out ethnically homogenous territories, hoping to obliterate the material evidence of a previous diversity. The damage to Bosnia-Herzegovina’s cultural inheritance was worst, particularly to its Ottoman and Islamic heritage.  

The vast majority of attacks were premeditated, systematic, and took place far from the frontlines. Rarely taking place in isolation, they were almost always accompanied by multiple atrocities and human rights abuses against the groups being targeted for expulsion – a scenario being horrifically enacted today, most visibly in Syria and Iraq.

With its emphasis on justice for victims of human rights abuses and calling to account those who committed, were responsible for, or allowed such abuses to take place, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has played a seminal role in the development of international human rights law – including that relating to cultural heritage. 

The Tribunal demonstrated how closely protection of cultural and religious property is tied up with peoples’ rights to enjoyment of their cultural heritage and how intimately cultural heritage and identity are linked. In case after case it showed how the destruction of structures which symbolised a group’s identity was a manifestation of persecution and crimes against humanity. Yet these prosecutions and their importance of the ICTY’s case law are relatively little known to those in the fields of art crime and heritage protection.

With the ICTY winding down and only the trial of Ratko Mladić to complete before the court closes for good in December 2017, SENSE saw the urgency of ensuring that the Tribunal’s legacy was made permanently and publicly accessible. As SENSE Centre for Transitional Justice it has since produced Srebrenica: Genocide in Eight Acts and Storm in The Hague detailing the controversies raised by the ICTY trials for war crimes committed during Operation Storm in Croatia. Targeting History and Memory, SENSE’s third online narrative, was recently presented in Sarajevo and Zagreb, with an event in Belgrade to follow.

Dubrovnik Old City shelling, 1991
Among the iconic images of attacks on heritage during the Yugoslav conflicts were the 1991 bombardment of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Dubrovnik in Croatia by Yugoslav forces, Sarajevo’s National Library erupting in flames after a barrage of incendiary shells from Bosnian Serb artillery in 1992, and the collapse of the sixteenth century Ottoman Old Bridge at Mostar following persistent shelling by Bosnian Croat forces in 1993.  Shocking as these were, it was in towns and villages across Bosnia-Herzegovina in wide swathes of ethnically-cleansed countryside where, unrecorded by the media, destruction was worst. Yet after the intentional cultural destruction of the 1992–1995 Bosnian War, more was to follow during the 1998–1999 Kosovo War. All these cases are explored on the website.

With its easy access to key texts, reports and documents like evidence exhibits and a comprehensive bibliography (much of it downloadable), and through its rich array of audio-visual material, including archival photos, videos of ICTY trial testimonies and documentary films, Targeting History and Memory must now be the best source of information on the ICTY’s prosecutions of crimes against cultural property. Apart from the plethora of background material, the website has two standout features.

For while celebrating ICTY’s achievements, Targeting History and Memory also offers a critical assessment, uncovering the difficulties in prosecuting crimes against cultural heritage during conflict, , not just at the Tribunal, but at all. The prevailing mindsets of those working in the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP), few of whom (or more likely, none) probably had any prior interest or knowledge of prosecuting cultural property crimes are revealed in the videos that introduce each section. It also raises yet again the vexed question of ‘military necessity’ relating to cultural property crimes (though apparently not of proportionality) and a brief glimpse of ICTY prosecutors’ discussions on the subject.

Sarajevo National Library, copyright ICTY
The first video, in particular, with its interviews with current and former ICTY prosecutors reveal their thinking behind prosecutions involving destruction of cultural and religious property. They offer some eye-opening excuses and justifications for removing important attacks from indictments such as the still inexplicable removal of the shelling of the National Library from the indictments against Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić, surely one of the most documented incidents of the Siege of Sarajevo. Notably, the bombardment was listed on indictments not as an attack on a cultural monument, but as a ‘shelling incident’.

Mostar Old Bridge, 8 November 1993
Another interview reveals how close the destruction of the Old Bridge in Mostar – undoubtedly the paradigm for the deliberate attacks on cultural heritage during all the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia – came to not being included at all in the indictments against the military and political leaders of the secessionist Bosnian Croats attempting to create an ethnically homogenous para-state of Herceg-Bosna (Prlić et al). The insertion of the Old Bridge into a clause on the indictments relating to the destruction or wilful damage to institutions ‘dedicated to religion or education’ now seems to have been intentional rather than mistaken. This decision was to seriously hamstring the judges in reaching a guilty verdict for the destruction of the Old Bridge, although they eventually did – albeit with a dissenting opinion from the president of the trial chamber.

Unprosecuted destruction
Jajce-Orthodox Church
The second standout is the website’s Unprosecuted section which outlines in depressing detail the limitations of international justice for prosecuting crimes against cultural property during conflict. While prosecutions were made (and convictions achieved) for the bombardment of Dubrovnik, there have been none for other major attacks on cultural property made during the 1991–1995 Croatian War such as the assaults on numerous historic monuments in Vukovar with its many Baroque buildings, nor in Bosnia-Herzegovina, for instance, for the destruction of all types of cultural property at the ancient city of Jajce, from mosques and historic Muslim neighbourhoods to Orthodox and Catholic churches.

Ahmici Mosque, Bosnia 1993

And the ICTY has yet to explain why all fifteen mosques totally and intentionally destroyed in Banja Luka appeared on its 1995 joint indictment in of Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić, but were completely removed from final indictments. Thus, no-one will have been prosecuted at all for the destruction of the sixteen-century Ferhadija Mosque which reopened in 2016, 23 years after it was blown up in May 1993.


                                                           ENDS

Targeting History and Memory: The ICTY and the investigation, reconstruction and prosecution of crimes against cultural and religious heritage
http://heritage.sense-agency.com/


The author of this blog post advised on and wrote the introduction to Targeting History and Memory.