The Destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan and International Law

Posted: 29 Feb 2008

See all articles by Francesco Francioni

Francesco Francioni

European University Institute - Department of Law (LAW)

Federico Lenzerini

University of Siena - Faculty of Law


Throughout history, destruction and loss of cultural heritage have frequently occurred as a consequence of fanatic iconoclasm or as 'collateral' effects of armed conflicts. The devastation of the great rock sculptures of the Buddhas of Bamiyan by military and para-military forces of the Taliban Government of Afghanistan in March 2001 presents some unprecedented features. The discriminatory intent, reflected in the sheer will to eradicate any cultural manifestation foreign to the Taliban ideology, and the deliberate defiance of the United Nations and international public opinion make this destruction a very dangerous precedent. The authors try to assess the adequacy of international law in dealing with acts of this kind, and to identify gaps as well as relevant principles and rules applicable in the context of the deliberate destruction of cultural heritage. They conclude that extreme and discriminatory forms of intentional destruction of cultural heritage of significant value for humankind constitutes a breach of general international law applicable both in peacetime and in the event of armed conflicts, entailing international responsibility of the acting state and the possibility to make recourse to international sanctions against it, as well as criminal liability of the individuals who materially order and/or perform the acts of destruction.

Suggested Citation

Francioni, Francesco and Lenzerini, Federico, The Destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan and International Law. European Journal of International Law, Vol. 14, No. 4, pp. 619-651, 2003, Available at SSRN:

Francesco Francioni (Contact Author)

European University Institute - Department of Law (LAW) ( email )

Via Boccaccio 121 (Villa Schifanoia)
I-50122 Firenze

Federico Lenzerini (Contact Author)

University of Siena - Faculty of Law

Piazza S. Francesco, 7
I-53100 Siena, siena 53100

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