Ius Gentium

University of Baltimore School of Law's Center for International and Comparative Law Fellows discuss international and comparative legal issues


The War on Culture

Kia Roberts-Warren

The destruction of culture has become an instrument of terror, in a global strategy to undermine societies, propagate intolerance and erase memories. This cultural cleansing is a war crime that is now used as a tactic of war, to tear humanity from the history it shares,” (Irina Bokova, head of UNSECO).[1]

The destruction and looting of art is a widespread and systematic attack to erase people’s memories and identities. The Nazis destroyed and looted hundreds and thousands of books, art, and other cultural relics.[2] Paintings were vandalized during the armed conflict between Macedonia and the National Liberation Army[3] The siege of Dubrovnik, damaging the ancient Mostar bridge, and the Sarajevo national library during the Yugoslav wars.[4]

Terrorist organizations have put destruction of cultural heritage back on the war agenda. Since ISIS’ has taken over territory in Syria and Iraq, they have destroyed and looted numerous World Heritage Sites that the group deems idolatrous and blasphemous.[5] A World Heritage Site is determined by United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and is defined as “belonging to all peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located.”[6] By historical standards, ISIS’ actions in Iraq are “on a rampage of destruction not seen since the Mongol’s sacking of Baghdad in 1258.”[7]

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Temple of Bel (or Baal) in Syria. The Temple was one of the main attractions Palmyra, a Roman-era trading outpost in the desert, northeast of Damascus, Syria

In Syria, ISIS has destroyed the ancient cities of Palmyra, Mar Elian Monastery, Apamea, Dura-Europos, and Mari.[8] In Iraq, ISIS has destroyed the oldest Christian monastery (Dair Mar Elia), Assyrian Empire artifacts in the Mosul Museum, Nineveh archeological site, razed the Tomb of Jonah and other religious sites, Nergal Gate (an entrance to the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh, where the men use power tools to destroy a pair of massive statues of winged bulls with a human heads), and the Nimrud archaeological site.[9]

Moreover, the Sunni Muslim library, the Mosul Museum Library, and the library of the 265-year-old Latin Church and Monastery of the Dominican Fathers have also been heavily damaged. These libraries contained collections from the Ottoman Empire, Iraqi newspapers from the early 20th century, and other ancient texts were burned in the streets.[10] Irina Bokova stated that it was “one of the most devastating acts of destruction of library collections in human history.”[11] (You can see video here)

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A member of ISIS destroying an ancient Assyrian lamassu (screenshot from an ISIS propaganda video)

Intelligence officials say looting is the terror group’s second largest source of income after oil.[12] ISIS encourages civilians to plunder historic sites and then charges a 20 percent tax on anything they sell.

Last February the UN Security Council adopted a new resolution, UNSCR 2199, which was drafted by Russia and co-sponsored by the United States.[13] The Resolution prohibits the trade of artifacts illegally removed from Syria since 2011 and Iraq since 1990.[14] The UN General Assembly, also, passed a resolution called “Saving the Cultural Heritage of Iraq,” which states that ISIS’ actions may amount to war crimes as well as details about ISIS’s attacks on cultural heritage sites and demands its members be stopped and held accountable.[15]

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In the wake of ISIS’ cultural destruction, Italy has teamed up with UNESCO to create a task force.[16] This task force called The Peacekeepers of Culture, will be a 60-person team of art detectives from the art-squad police from Italy’s Carabinieri military police, historians, and Italian-trained restoration experts.[17] The goals of the peacekeepers are to protect ancient artworks, artifacts, and archaeological sites in conflict zones from extremists, protect against “cultural cleansing” and the fear-mongering propaganda, and to cut off some of the Islamic State’s funds acquired through the sale of looted artifacts, statues, and other antiquities on the black market.[18] It will establish facilities in Turin, where it will train cultural heritage protection experts. It aims to “assess risk and quantify damage done to cultural heritage sites, develop action plans and urgent measures, provide technical supervision and training for local national staff,” as well as help move some objects to safety.[19] The task force has not chosen a country for its first mission but is ready to go where UNESCO sends them.[20]

In April 2013, the Smithsonian Institute created the Safeguarding the Heritage of Syria and Iraq (SHOSI) Project. It provides emergency preservation work, conservation materials, and training to Syrian and Iraqi museums to help salvage damaged collections and sites.[21] In the summer of 2014, SHOSI held an emergency workshop in Syria. One of the missions was to provide equipment and supplies for workshop participants to secure the immovable mosaics collection at the Ma’arra Museum in Idlib Province. This museum housed one of the most important collections of third-to-sixth century Roman and Byzantine mosaics in the Middle East.[22]

This may seem to be weak enforcement on the part of the international community. However, destruction of art is as war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Article 8 (2)(b)(ix) states: “Intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science or charitable purposes, historic monuments, hospitals and places where the sick and wounded are collected, provided they are not military objectives.”[23]

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Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, on trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague

The ICC is currently hearing its first ever war crime trial addressing the destruction of cultural heritage.[24] Malian Jihadi leader, Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi is accused of destroying ancient mausoleums in Timbuktu, specifically, medieval shrines, tombs of Sufi Saints, a 15th century mosque and over 4,000 ancient manuscripts were lost or destroyed all which were considered World Heritage sites.[25] This case is considered to be an important case at the ICC in fighting against war crimes directed at cultural heritage.[26] The last time a case like this was brought to trial was in 2013 when Balkan warlords were charged with the shelling Dubrovnik in the early 1990s, damaging the ancient Mostar bridge, and the Sarajevo national library by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).[27]

When we think of atrocious crimes committed by ISIS, destruction of art and cultural sites are not on the list. We think of targeting civilians, rape, and general pillage. However, it is important because these sites aren’t just the destruction of Iraqi or Syrian history, but, rather history that belongs to the world. These artifacts and sites cannot be repaired or replaced. Once they are destroyed, they are gone completely. To let them perish at the hands of terrorists cannot go unpunished or unnoticed any longer.

Kia Roberts-Warren is a 2l at UB Law. She is concentrating in international law and business law. Kia graduated from Temple University receiving a BA in East Asian Studies during that time she spent a semester in Tokyo, Japan. Kia has an interest in private international law particularly trade and business as well as public international law. She also interested in fashion law and art law in the international context. Last spring, she was an extern at the Hudson Institute, a think-tank in DC that deals mainly with national security issues. Kia is currently the Career Development Director of ILS and recently participated in the 2016 Philip C. Jessup Moot Court Competition. She also plans on attending the Aberdeen Summer Abroad Program this  summer. 


[1] http://saudigazette.com.sa/world/mena/this-map-reveals-full-extent-of-daeshs-cultural-destruction/

[2] http://saudigazette.com.sa/world/mena/this-map-reveals-full-extent-of-daeshs-cultural-destruction/

[3] http://www.dailyevergreen.com/news/article_38faf3bc-da91-11e5-a5e1-fb5b07906df6.html

[4] https://news.artnet.com/art-world/icc-cultural-destruction-trial-timbuktu-mausoleums-437882

[5] https://news.artnet.com/art-world/icc-cultural-destruction-trial-timbuktu-mausoleums-437882

[6] http://whc.unesco.org/en/about/

[7] http://saudigazette.com.sa/world/mena/this-map-reveals-full-extent-of-daeshs-cultural-destruction/

[8] http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/09/150901-isis-destruction-looting-ancient-sites-iraq-syria-archaeology/

[9] http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/03/isis-destroys-ancient-art.html#

[10] http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/03/isis-destroys-ancient-art.html#

[11] http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/03/isis-destroys-ancient-art.html#

[12] http://hyperallergic.com/183201/un-security-council-takes-aim-at-isis-antiquities-trafficking/

[13] http://hyperallergic.com/183201/un-security-council-takes-aim-at-isis-antiquities-trafficking/

[14] http://hyperallergic.com/183201/un-security-council-takes-aim-at-isis-antiquities-trafficking/

[15] http://hyperallergic.com/210944/un-says-isiss-cultural-destruction-may-amount-to-war-crimes/

[16] http://hyperallergic.com/276208/italy-and-unesco-establish-task-force-to-protect-cultural-heritage-in-conflict-zones/

[17] http://hyperallergic.com/276208/italy-and-unesco-establish-task-force-to-protect-cultural-heritage-in-conflict-zones/

[18] http://hyperallergic.com/276208/italy-and-unesco-establish-task-force-to-protect-cultural-heritage-in-conflict-zones/

[19] http://hyperallergic.com/276208/italy-and-unesco-establish-task-force-to-protect-cultural-heritage-in-conflict-zones/

[20] http://hyperallergic.com/276208/italy-and-unesco-establish-task-force-to-protect-cultural-heritage-in-conflict-zones/

[21] http://unitetosave.si.edu/projects/response/

[22] https://global.si.edu/success-stories/safeguarding-cultural-heritage-syria-and-iraq

[23] http://legal.un.org/icc/statute/99_corr/cstatute.htm

[24] https://news.artnet.com/art-world/icc-cultural-destruction-trial-timbuktu-mausoleums-437882

[25] https://news.artnet.com/art-world/icc-cultural-destruction-trial-timbuktu-mausoleums-437882

[26] https://news.artnet.com/art-world/icc-cultural-destruction-trial-timbuktu-mausoleums-437882

[27] https://news.artnet.com/art-world/icc-cultural-destruction-trial-timbuktu-mausoleums-437882

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UB students participate in the 2nd Clara Barton International Humanitarian Law Competition

From March 14th through March 17th in Chicago, UB Law students: Gregory Franklin (2L), Christian Noble (3L) and Maya Zegarra (3L) participated in the 2nd Clara Barton International Humanitarian Law Competition. The competition was hosted by the American Red Cross (ARC), and sponsored by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Canadian Red Cross, and the American Society of International Law. Team UB was sponsored by UB’s International Law Society. Thcompetition, named after the founder of the American Red Cross, is simulation-based experiential legal competition exposing rising professionals to the practice of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and real world challenges facing IHL practitioners during armed conflict.


Team UB

 In preparation for the competition, we met twice a week with our coach Catherine Moore, Coordinator for International Law Programs, to discuss several topics of IHL and run simulations of various scenarios illustrating IHL issues.  To prepare even more, we attended the IHL Workshop held by the ARC, ICRC, and University of Virginia a month prior to the competition, in Charlottesville, VA. To participate in the competition, we submitted a statement of interest, personal bios, and memorandums addressing IHL issues as pre-qualification requirement. Out of the application packet submissions, only sixteen teams from the U.S. and Canada were selected to participate in the competition.

 Clara Barton teams

A couple of days before the start of the competition, we received several background documents detailing tensions concerning a few small nations in and around the fictional Neptune Sea.  After the end of the Great War between the Antlian Federation and the Socialist Republic of Centaurs, Antlia annexed a small, formerly independent island chain. Tensions began to ease in the years after Antlia annexed the island chain, but one island, Nuk, remained on edge.  Nuk was experiencing economic downturn and increasing instances of violence between the native Nuk population and new Antlian residents.  The combination of high unemployment, heavy Antlian police presence, and perceived oppression of the native Nuk population by the Antlian oppressors brought about The Nuk Independence Liberation Front (NILF).  This group fought for independence with bombings, armed skirmishes, kidnappings, and propaganda.  This scenario would morph over time as the competition progressed.


Simulating a Press Conference

Simulating a Press Conference

While our first day in Chicago was one of rest and social gatherings, our second day was all IHL, all the time.  Day two began at 7am with a short breakfast.  The first simulation required us to assume the role of the Antlian Press Team and deflect/ reason accusations that our nation’s actions were akin to placing us into an armed conflict.  Warning shots issued to another nation, Centaurus, were characterized as communication.  Military units were labeled a “police force.”  This simulation taught us a hard lesson about characterization and word choice.  Christian once referred to the NILF members as “soldiers.”  The press (judges) seized on this gaffe and he was forced to explain he was being facetious.

The second simulation pit two teams against each other.  The detaining power (Team UB) against Prisoners of War (United States Air Force).  As the detaining power, we had the upper hand.  POW requests for flavored e-cigarette cartridges were swiftly denied, while requests for gluten free meals were harder to outright reject.  Life under our iron fist was tough, but we could not lose sight of our humanity.  The simulation continued with discussions about appropriate medical care, access to religious ceremonies, and outside communication in accordance with Geneva Convention. 

Team UB Plays the Detaining Power in an Armed Conflict

Team UB Plays the Detaining Power in an Armed Conflict

Day three began with a two part simulation.  Our task was to play both sides of an argument regarding two futuristic weapons.  The Flat Immersible Net (FIN) and an electromagnetic rail gun.  The FIN attaches to passing vessels, slowing their voyage.  Unfortunately, the FIN does not distinguish between military and civilian vessels.  Additionally, the FIN is very effective at inadvertently catching fish, reducing the local population by as much as 20%.  The rail gun is very effective at dismembering enemy military, but maybe too effective.  Further, the rail gun munitions splinter upon impact, sometimes into undetectable particulate small enough to be inhaled by nearby civilian fishing vessels.

Pointing out the negative impact of these weapons was the easy part.  Indiscriminate weapons, weapons that break apart into non-detectable fragments, and weapons that cause undue suffering are all prohibited by one or more international treaties. The second part of the simulation, explaining to an Antlian government official why these weapons do not violate those treaties, proved more challenging.  The main crux of our argument was pointing out ambiguous facts (“Thought to cause breathing problems?  I can think anything.  Is there actual proof?”) and how these weapons were just like traditional ordinance (“Bullets and bombs sever limbs.  This is the same thing.”).

The final simulation involved a mock United Nations discussion with four states.  The purpose was to create a peace keeping force to maintain an uneasy and time-sensitive ceasefire between Antlia and rival state, Lyra.  Our job was to discuss the mandate and the status of the peacekeeping personnel.  During the discussion, a question was raised: Would the status of the peacekeepers (and their respective home state) change in the event they engaged in hostilities with NILF members in the course of their peacekeeping duties?  Alternatively, would the states involved be dragged into a non-international armed conflict (NIAC)?  Three states agreed and would discuss particulars of dealing with a NIAC at a future meeting.  One state took a hardline stance: in the event of a NIAC, they would immediately pull their military support.  Due to this impasse, our roundtable did not proceed further.  Our discussion centered on the rogue state’s lack of support and the definition of the peacekeeper’s role. 

UB dinner

After a long, hard fought two days four teams advanced to the semi-finals, unfortunately, this did not include Team UB.  The two semi-final rounds focused on an International Court of Justice suit filed against the Socialist Republic of Centaurus for alleged activities in the Neptune Sea region.  After the dust settled, two teams remained standing: United States Air Force and University of Ottawa Faculty of Law.  The final simulation required the teams to negotiate a formal cessation of hostilities between the Socialist Republic of Centaurus and the Antlian Federation.  Negotiations were fierce, including prisoner return and the withdraw of troops from occupied territory.  While both sides of the negotiation were well represented, the performance of the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law convinced the judges for the win.

Team UB and Georgetown at dinner

Teams UB and Georgetown at dinner

 Overall, it was a great experience to be able to represent the University of Baltimore School of Law and participate in the Clara Barton Competition to further our knowledge of IHL.  It was also great to meet professionals and experts in the field including our fellow students who also have great interest in IHL. We hope that UB will field a team next year and continue this tradition of participation in the Clara Barton!

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Holding Private Military Security Contractors Accountable, Part I

Lindsay Stallings

What is the role of private military security contractors (PMSC) in international war today? At the beginning of the War on Terror there were an innumerable amount of private security personnel working for the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan. On October 23, 2014, a jury convicted four former Blackwater (now known as Academi) security personnel of first degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, attempted manslaughter, and using military firearms in the commission of a felony.[1] These convictions send a message that the actions of PMSCs can incur criminal liability for their actions.

The role PMSCs play in international conflicts is very important. They often do work that active duty military cannot do because of various international law constraints, they often have military training themselves, but are often not held by the same international law standards due to the status of forces agreements (SOFA) that they operate under in the host country. These agreements often afford PMSCs immunity under the domestic laws of the host country. This case featuring the four former Blackwater operatives is of great importance because it is the first instance that puts limits on the activities of the PMSC’s. 

KHALID MOHAMMED/AP - An Iraqi traffic policeman inspects a car destroyed by a Blackwater security detail in al-Nisoor Square in Baghdad, Iraq in 2007. A federal jury in Washington convicted four former Blackwater security guards on trial in the shootings of more than 30 Iraqi citizens in the heart of Baghdad.

An Iraqi traffic policeman inspects a car destroyed by a Blackwater security detail in al-Nisoor Square in Baghdad, Iraq in 2007. A federal jury in Washington convicted four former Blackwater security guards on trial in the shootings of more than 30 Iraqi citizens in the heart of Baghdad.

Condoning their Behavior?

In 2007 four Blackwater operatives killed 14 unarmed Iraqi’s, largely women and children. At the time of the incident the US refused to allow the Blackwater employees to be tried by the Iraqi justice system. They were brought back to the US to stand trial here instead. The first trial was dismissed by the judge based on the unconstitutional collection of evidence.[2] In terms of US-Iraqi diplomatic relations the mistrial was the second blow. First, the US protected the Blackwater employees by bringing them back to the US for trial. Second, when they did face trial, it was inconclusive. To the Iraqis this likely seemed as if the US was condoning the Blackwater employee’s actions, as there was no justice for those that were killed.[3]

At the conclusion of the second trial on October 22, 2014, there was little rebounding from the presumption that the US did not really intend to punish the Blackwater employees. In response to this daunting assertion, US attorney in Washington, DC said that this verdict “is a resounding affirmation of the commitment of the American people to the rule of law, even in times of war.”[4] Holding these security contractors accountable, even seven years later, will hopefully bridge the diplomatic differences exacerbated by this incident.[5]

Former Blackwater Worldwide security guard Nick Slatter, second from left, and Donald Ball, third from left, arrive with their lawyers at the U.S. District Court before surrendering to authorities in Salt Lake City, Utah, in Dec. 2008.

Former Blackwater Worldwide security guard Nick Slatter, second from left, and Donald Ball, third from left, arrive with their lawyers at the U.S. District Court before surrendering to authorities in Salt Lake City, Utah, in Dec. 2008.

What Role Will PMSCs Play in International Conflicts in the Future?

The true question is what legal status should PMSCs have in future international  and non-international armed conflicts?

In this case, the lack of international legal status is likely what caused the most diplomatic strife. These men are American citizens, but they are not American military. They do not report to the Department of Defense, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and the US enters into agreements with the host government that waives the applicability of host country domestic law for their actions. PMSCs are private American citizens employed by the Department of State. PMSCs operate in a legal vacuum. Prior to these convictions, legal precedent was unclear as to what law applied to private citizens committing criminal acts in foreign lands. There is still not a clear legal direction as to what status PMSCs hold when they are acting in a foreign country. This could be further muddled if distinguishing between the types of conflicts that PMSCs are participating in, whether or not they are working overtly or covertly, and who has hired them (the United States government or other nations). In the second installment of this blog post, however, I will delve further into the legal status PMSC’s should have when acting within various types of international conflicts based on the legal precedent set by this case.

While legal precedent is important, it sometimes works much slower in the real world than public policy could work. The Iraqis doubted the US commitment to bringing the Blackwater employees to justice for their attack on unarmed Iraqi civilians. This ruling is a palpable step towards establishing a barrier between acceptable and unacceptable behavior of private citizens acting in a war zone. Although the Iraqis may not have their full faith in the US justice system restored after waiting seven years for a ruling, this is indeed a positive step in showing the world that we are willing to hold these private citizens accountable for their actions. This could, and hopefully does, show the world that the US does not think it is completely above the law – foreign or domestic.


Legal precedent is important and actively developing due, in large part, to this case. In the meantime, the evolving public policy will hopefully calm any remaining diplomatic strain stemming from this incident. Further, it should remind the international community that the US is taking responsibility for the actions of their PMSCs and, while it took some time in this case, impunity will not carry on into the future.

In Part Two of this blog post I will discuss the legal standards that should be applied to PMSCs in different types of international conflicts.

Lindsay Stallings is third year student at the University of Baltimore School of Law, planning to graduate in May 2015 with a J.D. and concentration in International Law. She graduated from The Ohio State University in June of 2011 with a Bachelors of Science in Political Science with minors in Sociology and International Studies. She has also studied  Spanish and Arabic language and culture extensively. While at The Ohio State University she was a member of the International Affairs Scholars program, through which she studied abroad in Bulgaria. She was active in the Undergraduate Student Government and was a member of various academic and student life university-level committees.

Her primary interests are international law, national security, and U.S. Military and diplomatic policies. Through her coursework and relationships with our international law faculty she has developed a more focused interest in the policies surrounding international conflict and the capabilities of international courts. Lindsay currently serves as the Careers Director on the International Law Society and is a Staff Editor on the Journal of International Law. Her legal coursework and extracurricular activities have given her the opportunity to mold her passion for cultural studies and problem solving into an exciting international legal career.

[1] Justine Drennan, Four Blackwater Guards Convicted of Killing 14 Unarmed Iraqis, Oct. 23, 2014 http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2014/10/22/four_blackwater_guards_convicted_of_killing_14_unarmed_iraqis.

[2] Dwyer Arce, Federal judge dismissed charges against indicted Blackwater guards, Jan. 1, 2010 http://jurist.org/paperchase/2010/01/federal-judge-dismisses-charges-against.php.

[3] Mary Casey, U.S. Jury Convicts Four Former Blackwater Guards in 2007 Killings, Oct. 23, 2014 http://mideastafrica.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2014/10/23/us_jury_convicts_four_former_blackwater_guards_in_2007_killings

[4] Id.

[5] Matt Apuzzo, Blackwater Guards Found Guilty in 2007 Iraq Killings, Oct. 22, 2014 http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/23/us/blackwater-verdict.html?ref=middleeast&_r=0.