- Why is the world helpless?
- Because, there appears to be no international law to check the
Taliban's acts of vandalism.
- Mona Mehta reports
(March 4, 2001): Is there an international law which could have
prevented the Taliban from vandalising historical monuments? Opinion is divided. R P
Anand, professor of international law at JNU, says there is no provision under
international law which can challenge a sovereign country's right to do whatever they want
within their own borders.
"The UNESCO Charter does have a clause which says that world
heritage must be protected, but it does not have any legal binding," says Anand.
His colleague, V S Mani, disagrees. There is a universal treaty called
the UNESCO Convention on Protection of Cultural Property During Armed Conflict which was
signed in 1954 by most countries including Afghanistan. There are also two international
conventions: the UNESCO Declaration for Cultural Heritage, which obligates all the
signatories to protect places of cultural heritage; and the UN convention on tolerance.
``All these come under international law,'' says Mani.
So, the Taliban can be held accountable. The hitch: before filing such
a case in the international court of justice, the parties concerned should agree to accept
the court's jurisdiction. Will the Taliban agree to this? Unlikely.
What steps can the international community take?
Mani: Under the 1954 treaty, the world community can either use
diplomatic means or go for the UN option: the Security Council could pass a resolution to
use force or other measures to prevent such acts.
Anand: The international community can only request the Taliban not to
destroy the monuments. If Bin Laden is misusing the Afghan territory to launch terrorist
attacks on the other countries, international law can step in. If the Taliban were setting
fire to Afghan homes and killing people, international law can step in because it would be
a violation of human rights. But not in case of Buddhists relics.
What if someone decides to damage the Taj Mahal?
Mani: In normal conditions, the 1954 treaty does not apply. Take the
destruction of the Babri Masjid. It was the responsibility of the government of the day to
take care of the site. A sovereign country is subject to some obligations under
international law. Preserving the cultural heritage is one such obligation. In case
someone tries to damage a site of such historical and cultural importance as the Taj,
people can approach the Supreme Court citing infringement of their human rights.
Anand: In the 19th century, the Britishers had turned the Taj into a
stable.When you have sovereign right over a territory, you have unlimited freedom, at
least theoretically, to do anything you like. No court of international law can do
anything to challenge your right. The Taliban have issued a decree in their own territory,
over a monument in their own territory, so there is nothing one can do about it legally.
As for the Taj, the local people can take the issue to the Supreme
Court and it can issue directives to prevent such a deed or punish the perpetrators of
such an act.