November 16, 2017
This article analyses how the International Criminal Court dealt, in the case of Al-Mahdi, with the crime of intentional attacks directed against protected cultural heritage sites. The case is discussed in the context of the previous experience and jurisprudence of other international criminal tribunals in prosecuting and punishing the perpetrators of cultural heritage crimes. In this respect, the article examines the complementary function of international criminal justice in relation to the shortcomings of national criminal jurisdictions. It also deals with a set of fundamental issues emerging at the junction of the international protection of cultural heritage and individual criminal responsibility, being the gravity of international crimes; cultural genocide as affecting the identity of a group; and the primary obligation of States to exercise criminal jurisdiction over individuals. The core aim of the article is thus to critically analyse the extent to which the ICC judgment in Al-Mahdi may be seen as a breakthrough towards a more efficient international mechanism for counteracting impunity in crimes against cultural heritage.