Chapter 4 Destruction and Looting of Cultural Property in Yemen’s Civil War

Legal Implications and Methods of Prevention

In: The Asian Yearbook of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law
Julia Emtseva
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As the list of victims of the Yemeni internal conflict continues to grow, people in that region are vulnerable not only to annihilation by rebel attacks and Arab Coalition strikes, but also to the deprivation of their cultural identity and history. The international community focuses on the humanitarian catastrophe caused by the multiplicity of armed groups while the destruction and damage of Yemeni historic sites are mostly ignored. Both customary international law and treaty law recognise the destruction of or damage to cultural heritage as a war crime and establish accountability for those responsible for these unlawful acts. This article confirms that the official government of Yemen, as well as the Arab Coalition, failed to justify their actions in accordance with the military necessity principle. The looters, namely the Houthis and terrorists, should also bear responsibility for ransacking Yemeni cultural sites. However, combatants and their commanders are not the only actors who contribute to the deprivation of the cultural identity of peoples. Those who buy the stolen art objects smuggled from the war zones and then display them either at their homes or art galleries and museums are aiding and abetting the war crime of plunder and thus should also bear responsibility. The article will first relate the facts about the destruction of the Yemeni cultural property and then apply these facts to the relevant legal instruments and studies in order to ascertain the liability of those responsible. The same will be done with the crime of looting. The final part will discuss the existing mechanisms of the protection of cultural heritage and who is obliged to safeguard cultural sites and objects both during wartime and peacetime.

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