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Tag Archives: cultural war crimes

Topical Tuesday: INLA Part IV

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The Library During Times of Armed Conflict:

A look at Iraq’s National Library and Archives

  1. International law and cultural property:

4a. Brief background:

Historically, the destruction of libraries and archives during times of war has not been effectively prosecuted. Usually, such crimes fall within a general charge for destruction of property, or destruction of cultural property. Even more problematic, there are not very strong laws criminalizing the destruction of libraries and archives. UNESCO’s Memory of the World Program is one attempt to protect these places, but it does not criminalize their destruction. The 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict is really the only weighty legal device which protects libraries and archives in times of war. Still, it is not well enforced. (Zgonjanin, 2005)

The 1992 destruction of the National and Academic Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo, mentioned at the beginning of this paper, marks one of the only times in modern history that war criminals were specifically charged with the destruction of cultural property. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has indicted several people for the cultural destruction that took place during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. This was extremely important because it brought attention to the weakness of the 1954 Hague Convention. In 1999, the Hague Convention was expanded to include measures and funding for the protection of cultural property during armed conflict. The expansion also limited military activity to places of military necessity, and imposed individual criminal responsibility for those in any violation. (Zgonjanin, 2005)

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Topical Tuesday: INLA Part III

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The Library During Times of Armed Conflict:

A look at Iraq’s National Library and Archives

  1. Iraq’s National Library and Archives’ efforts to rebuild:

3a. Saad Eskander and INLA’s new culture:

When Saad Eskander assumed the role Director General of INLA following these events, he took drastic action. There was a major shortage of qualified, professional librarians and archivists in Iraq. He immediately hired dozens of young and recently graduated professionals (Kingsley, 2013). He made a point to hire both men and women, and to promote women to higher positions within INLA. He also fired those who had been convinced by the corruption of the library. (Eskander, 2011) Eskander sent many of his staff away for more training in places such as Italy, Czech Republic, Britain and the U.S. to reverse the lack of professional development. To circumvent the oppressive atmosphere that the Ba’athist regime had generated, Eskander also established democratic systems within the institution. Staff would be voted into positions as department heads and officials, instead of being appointed. (Kingsley, 2013) Slowly, these efforts helped Eskander transform a fearfully obedient staff into strong individuals unafraid to voice their opinions and seek improvements and modernization.

After re-training and improving the staff morale, the next problem to be tackled was the collection. Eskander threw out old collection policies in favor of more liberal, democratic ones. He sought to improve the existing collection by removing censorship policies and rejoining censored materials with the rest of the library. He also moved to purchase updated materials and began accepting book donations from foreign cultures and institutions. Critically important to these efforts, was the decision to declassify the records of the Ministry of Interior of the Ba’ath regime. In all endeavors, Eskander promoted full access to diverse information.

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Topical Tuesday: INLA Part II

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The Library During Times of Armed Conflict:

A look at Iraq’s National Library and Archives

2.The destruction of the Iraq National Library and Archives in 2003:

2a. Brief description of the political situation:

Once again, the state of the library was directly impacted by the political and social issues within Iraq. After the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, the Bush administration regained earlier concerns over Saddam’s noncompliance with UN policies concerning weapons of mass destruction. In 2002, after Saddam once again failed to fully comply with searches performed by the UN, American and British forces declared an end to diplomacy. On March 17, 2003, U.S. President Bush ordered Saddam to step down from his office and leave Iraq within 48 hours or face war. He also stated that U.S. forces may step in to help establish a new government and stabilize the country. When Saddam refused to step down, U.S. and allied forces began their attack on March 20. Iraqi forces were quickly defeated, and the U.S. took control of Baghdad on April 9. More cities fell on April 10, 11, and 13, and President Bush declared an end to major fighting on May 1. (“Iraq War,” n.d.)

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Topical Tuesday: A Rather Serious Beginning

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The Library During Times of Armed Conflict:

A look at Iraq’s National Library and Archives

The nineteenth century brought the greatest growth of libraries and other cultural institutions in human history. The twentieth century brought a trend of destruction of these institutions as acts of war (Moustafa, 2014, p. 16). This trend appears to continue as we enter the twenty-first century. The goal of this post series is to gain a clearer understanding of the role of libraries during times of war, and political and social upheaval. The posts will focus specifically on the Iraq National Library and Archives (INLA) in three periods: before 2003, during the U.S. occupation and Iraqi liberation of 2003, and the events following 2003. The posts will discuss the library’s role under the Ba’athist regime of Saddam Hussein, the cultural implications of the destruction of the library during 2003, and efforts to rebuild by Saad Eskander and his staff. Finally, they will explore international law regarding the destruction of cultural institutions and property.

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