politics of archaeology

ICC hears first case on cultural crimes

The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague opened the confirmation of charges against Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi for destruction of religious and cultural heritage on March 1. The charges levied against al-Faqi, an alleged member of Islamic terrorist group, Ansar Dine, and an important figure in the jihadist occupation of Timbuktu, signal what appears to be the first-ever war crimes trial addressing attacks against cultural heritage. Specifically, the charges state that al-Faqi is criminally responsible, either himself or through his assistance, for "intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to religion and/or historical monuments in Timbuktu," including nine mausoleums and the Sidi Yahia Mosque

Setbacks for Nicaragua canal project

The International Court of Justice on on Dec. 16 recognized Costa Rica's sovereignty over a 2.5-square-kilometer disputed territory on the border with Nicaragua, one of the main claims fought over by the two countries at The Hague-based court. "The sovereignty over the disputed territory belongs to Costa Rica," Justice Ronny Abraham stated. The ruling found that an artificial canal opened by Nicaragua in 2010 through Isla Calero, also called Isla Portillos or Harbour Head Island, was within Costa Rican territory and not part of the common border between the two countries. Justices also unanimously found that Nicaragua violated Costa Rican territory by invading Isla Calero with military personnel, by dredging canals in Costa Rican territory, and by violating Costa Rica’s navigation rights on the Río San Juan. Nicaragua was ordered to compensate Costa Rica for damage caused to its territory.

US Special Forces repulsed in Libya: report

Frustratingly vague accounts indicate that a contingent of US Special Forces sent to fight ISIS in Libya were chased off by a local militia. The troops chose to leave "in an effort to avoid conflict," a US Africa Command spokesman told the BBC, but doesn't tell us much about the hostile militia. Stars & Stripes says the US troops were sent to an airbase near the ISIS-held town of Sabratha, in Libya's west, but doesn't tell us which of the country's rival regimes controls the base. Libya Herald names the base as al-Wattiyah, controlled by forces loyal to the government of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni. That is the internationally-recognized government, based in the eastern city of Bayda, with its parliament in Tobruk. Sabratha and al-Wattiyah are actually west of Tripoli, seat of the Libya Dawn coalition that controls most of the country's west, but appears to be a western pocket loyal to the Thinni government—now threatened by ISIS. It appears uncertain if the hostile militia was ostensibly loyal to the eastern regime. Representatives of the rival regimes signed a deal in Morocco on this week, agreeing to form a national unity government—but the incident at al-Wattiyah indicates how tenuous their actual control of ground forces is, even in areas ostensibly under their control.

Peru: privatization of archaeological sites seen

Public sector workers in Cuzco, Peru, held a rally in the historic city Sept. 30 to protest plans by the national government to allow private administration of cultural and archaeological sites. The Cuzco regional government, whose territory includes such famous sites as Machu Picchu, Saqsaywaman and Ollantaytambo, has already announced its refusal to comply with the new policy. The national Culture Minister Diana Álvarez-Calderón says President Ollanta Humala's new Legislative Decree 1198 does not affect the fundamental nature of state properties but would help attract capital "in order to transform them into a point of development in its area of influence." She emphasized that many sites are currently unprotected and vulnerable to artifact thieves and traffickers, and environmental erosion. But Wilfredo Álvarez, leader of the Cuzco Departamental Workers Federation (FDTC), warned, "If the private sector administrates the archaeological centers, it will bring income for millionaries" rather than Peru's people. He said the FDTC would give Humala a "prudent" period to revoke the decree before undertaking an "indefinite" strike. (La Republica, Oct. 1; Peru This Week, El Comercio, Sept. 29; Andina, Sept. 28; La Republica, Sept. 27)

Jihadist militant sent to ICC in Timbuktu attacks

Ahmad al-Mahdi al-Faqi AKA Abu Tourab, a former member of militant group Ansar Dine, was turned over to the International Criminal Court at The Hague by authorities in Niger Sept. 26, accused of war crimes allegedly committed in Timbuktu, Mali, including destruction of religious and historical monuments. He is charged in the destruction of nine mausoleums and a mosque in the historic city in 2012, when an alliance of jihadist militias including Ansar Dine was in control of northern Mali. The entire city of Timbuktu, known as the "City of 333 Saints," is a UNESCO-listed world heritage site. El-Boukhari Ben Essayouti, head of the Timbuktu Cultural Mission, said that al-Mahdi was but one militant who took part in the destruction, and called for his accomplices to be similarly brought to justice. (AFP, BBC News, APICC press release, Sept. 26)

ISIS complains about jihadist rivals in Libya

The latest edition of the English-language ISIS magazine Dabiq, released online Sept. 9, contains the predictable parade of perversions. Two men, Norwegian and Chinese nationals, are offered for sale as slaves. The destruction of ancient temples at the Palmyra archaeological site is trumpeted. Child soldiers are glorified as "lion cubs" of the "caliphate." The 9-11 attacks are hailed as the "blessed operations." But it also features an interview with Abul Mughirah al-Qahtani, identified as the "delegated leader" of the Islamic State's Libyan "province," in which he harshly criticizes several rival jihadist outfits, including Ansar al-Sharia, the Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade (ASMB), the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), and the Libyan Dawn coalition.

Chinese mine threatens Afghan Buddhist site

Chicago documentary collective Kartemquin Films announced that it will make director Brent E. Huffman's new release Saving Mes Aynak available for free to the people of Afghanistan on the digital platform VHX. The film follows Afghan archaeologist Qadir Temori as he races to save the remains of Mes Aynak from imminent demolition by China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC), a Chinese state-owned mining company that wants to develop a mammoth copper project on the site. Located in Afghanistan's Taliban hotbed of Logar province, Mes Aynak was built 2,000 years ago by the ancient Buddhist civilization—on top of a Bronze Age site dating back some 5,000 years. Only 10% of the site has so far been excavated, and time is running out. Laws protecting antiquities apparently go unenforced due to official corruption. Meanwhile, the Taliban continue to plunder the site, selling the artifacts on the black market to fund their insurgency. Huffman received death threats from the Taliban for his filiming work at the site. (Al Jazeera, Newsweek, July 1; Inside Pulse, June 25)

Obama disses Kurdish 'partners' against ISIS

In a press conference at the Pentagon today, President Obama said the struggle against ISIS will be a "long-term campaign," but that the US is "intensifying" efforts. He boasted: "In the past year we've seen when we have effective partners on the ground." He also stated: "Altogether, ISIL has lost over a quarter of the populated areas it had seized in Iraq." In naming those forces on the ground, he mentioned first and foremost "our Arab partners"—despite the fact that the most significant gains against ISIS have been not at the hands of Arabs but Kurds. Of the specific victories he invoked, only one—Tikrit—was by Arab forces. All the rest—Kirkuk, Sinjar, Mosul Dam, Kobani, Tal Abyad—were by Kurdish forces. Nowhere in his 20-minute comments did Obama so much as utter the word "Kurds," although he did refer to the "Peshmerga," "tribal fighters" and the "moderate opposition" in Syria.

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