Legacy website of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia

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Dubrovnik and Crimes against Cultural Heritage

Crimes against heritage are crimes against humanity

During the 1990s wars in the former Yugoslavia, hundreds of religious and cultural sites were systematically destroyed in an attempt to eradicate the culture of targeted groups in given areas.  From its very first cases,  the ICTY affirmed that destruction of cultural heritage is a crime under international customary law. The ICTY also determined that systematic crimes against cultural heritage can amount to crimes against humanity, ”for all of humanity is indeed injured by the destruction of a unique religious culture and its concomitant cultural objects”.

In 2001, the Tribunal issued an indictment against four accused for crimes committed during the 1991 siege of the Croatian costal town of Dubrovnik. While the indictment and subsequent trials included charges of murder and inhumane treatment of civilians, the intentional damage caused to this UNESCO World Heritage site played the main role in both the presentation of evidence and in public perception of these trials. This was the first time that crimes against cultural heritage took central stage in an international criminal trial. 

Through interviews with protagonists, witness testimony, trial arguments and judgements, Dubrovnik and Crimes against Cultural Heritage tells the story of the ICTY prosecution of deliberate attacks on many cultural sites in the former Yugoslavia, and uses the cases related to Dubrovnik as a case study.