World Court ruling sets ‘new precedent’ for protection of cultural heritage


The International Court of Justice on Tuesday ordered Azerbaijan to prevent and punish acts of vandalism and desecration affecting Armenian cultural heritage sites during the ongoing conflict in the region.

Cornell University researchers Adam smith and Lori Khatchadourian used high resolution satellite images monitor and document the threatened and damaged cultural heritage in the South Caucasus. Their reports served as evidence in the case.


Lori Khatchadourian

associate professor in the Department of Near Eastern Studies and specialist in the Soviet and post-Soviet Caucasus

Khachadurian says:

“Yesterday’s decision sets a new precedent for the protection of cultural heritage on a global scale. The court ruled that the damage to cultural heritage could likely constitute racial discrimination under the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

“We hope this decision will deter the egregious acts of damage and destruction that we have documented over the past year, under the auspices of the Caucasus Heritage Watch research group.

“The importance of the decision extends beyond this one region. While UNESCO has proven to be relatively powerless to protect endangered cultural heritage in conflict zones, the World Court now appears as a body perhaps better able to safeguard irreplaceable cultural treasures and protect the rights of minorities. against the abuse of racial discrimination.

“We are delighted that our satellite monitoring reports were used as evidence in the case that led to this important decision. Our work will continue, so that any violation of the court order is properly documented and can be used as evidence in an ongoing litigation, until a decision is made on the merits of the case. case.

Adam smith

Adam smith

Goldwin Smith Professor of Anthropology

Smith says:

“The decision radically disrupts traditional approaches to heritage preservation. Existing institutions dedicated to the preservation of the cultural heritage of humanity, such as UNESCO, have proven ineffective in cases where minorities and their monuments are threatened by the very governments that fund UN activities.

“Recognizing that attacks on the cultural heritage of minorities can be both the product and incitement to racial hatred, the tribunal opened the door for descendant communities to invoke the CERD treaty to defend threatened sites. In doing so, the court made a clear appeal to archaeologists not to simply act passively as custodians of sites and monuments, but to actively join the global fight against racism.

“The increasingly widespread availability of satellite imagery, along with the judgment of the ICJ, provides monitoring organizations with important new tools to hold states accountable for attacks on heritage sites. “

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