By late June reports described how the Islamist militants were wielding pickaxes to destroy the mausoleums of Muslim saints. According to the Ansar Dine spokesman, Sanda Ould Bamana, the Ansar Dine has completed almost 90% of its objective to destroy all mausoleums that are not in compliance with Islamic law.
Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (to which Mali is a Signatory to the Rome Statute, stating that deliberate attacks against undefended civilian buildings which are not military objectives are a war crime), has condemnedthe destruction as a “war crime” and has threatened the Islamist fighters inMali with legal action if they do not cease their destruction of the city.
Timbuktu—the city itself as well as the treasures housed within—embodies the prestige, religious ideals, and national aspirations of Mali. This is an example illustrating how art can suffer during wartime both because of its significance and as a by-product of armed conflict. The rebel groups seek to occupy the city so as to possess this symbol of power and prestige, and it is apparent that destruction is occurring as a means for the combating groups to reinforce political and social independence and power. Here we see intentional destruction, political and religious assertion, and the possibility of collateral damage, plunder, and ignorant destruction.
UNESCO has become involved; the Mali government has become involved; the ICC has become involved. Yet destruction continues. How can we stop this destruction? Cultural security must be ensured; our universal heritage must be protected from war.