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Spring 2021 Reading Group

Armed Conflict and World Heritage

Prerequisites: None

Exam Type: No Exam

While armed conflict inflicts much publicized suffering on individuals and their families, the scourge of war reaches has a broader reach. It also affects cultural and natural heritage, which international law defines as having “outstanding universal value.” Combatants intentionally destroy historical or religious sites or fail to take precautions to protect them. Victors seize art as a spoil of war, while looters sell archaeological artifacts to fund their cause. Conflict-related contamination causes lasting harm to human health and the environment. Combat operations spoil habitats, guerillas poach endangered species, and unexploded ordnance impinges on ecosystems long after hostilities have ceased.

This reading group will examine the threats to world heritage in past and current conflicts as well as the challenges of protection. Students will consider such questions as: When does something rise to the level of world heritage? What are the moral and legal arguments for protecting culture and nature during armed conflict? Is destruction of cultural property or the environment justified to save soldiers or civilians or to advance military objectives? Should the same standards of protection be applied to both types of heritage? Students will also study the legal instruments governments have adopted to address these issues and look for ways to strengthen the current framework.

Note: This reading group will meet on the following dates: 1/26, 2/9, 2/23, 3/9, 3/30, 4/13.