Cultural Objects in Times of Conflict

Heritage at war
Cultural artefacts and antiquities have always been part of the arsenal of warfare and violent conflict. Recently deliberate destruction, looting and trafficking have occurred during conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. Earlier there have been even more extensive waves of looting. Examples included in the course are the one-way traffic of objects of cultural and historical importance during five centuries of European colonialism, and the massive confiscation of art-works by the Nazis during the Second World War.
Course levelAdvanced Bachelor/Master
Block 3
5 to 19 August
Co-ordinating lecturerProf. Wouter Veraart
Other lecturersDr Jos van Beurden, Evelien Campfens, Tabitha van Oost and guests
Form(s) of tuitionInteractive seminars, field trips
Form(s) of assessmentPresentation, short paper
ECTS3 credits
Contact hours54
Total tuition fee€1150

Advanced undergraduates and postgraduate students of law, humanities or social sciences, as well as relevant practitioners. If you have doubts about your eligibility for the course, please let us know. Our courses are multi-disciplinary and therefore are open to students with a wide variety of backgrounds.

Cultural artefacts and antiquities have always been part of the arsenal of warfare and violent conflict. Recently deliberate destruction, looting and trafficking have occurred during conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. Earlier there have been even more extensive waves of looting. Examples included in the course are the one-way traffic of objects of cultural and historical importance during five centuries of European colonialism, and the massive confiscation of art-works by the Nazis during the Second World War.

In this course we look at these recent and historical practices, how they relate to other war crimes, and how to organize its restoration or restitution afterwards. What are the roles of law and morality in these contexts? Does international law and its enforcement protect cultural heritage in the present and in the past? And what about extra-legal responses?

Eminent experts in the field examine these issues from legal, criminological, historical and other perspectives, practical as well as theoretical. The framework they provide also covers approaches to the looting of cultural objects in the colonial era, post-colonial claims for the return of human remains and other cultural artefacts and the restitution of Nazi-looted art.

The course is organized by the Centre for International Criminal Justice (CICJ), a leading global player in research on international criminal law and the criminology of international crimes, in collaboration with CLUE+, the VU Research Institute for Culture, History and Heritage.

  • You understand and can apply international legal frameworks protecting cultural objects in times of war and conflict.
  • You can relate the intentional destruction of cultural heritage to other war crimes, such as ethnic cleansing and genocide.
  • You are familiar with specific cases of post-conflict restitution of cultural artefacts, and their challenges.
  • You can reflect creatively upon the dynamics between various legal and extra-legal approaches to disputes around looted artefacts and historical injustice.
Visits to either the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam, campaign group Walk of Truth (Amsterdam) or the ICTY or ICC (The Hague), and to the National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden.
Tasoula Hadjitofi (Walk of Truth), Wayne Modest (National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden), Steph Scholten (Head of Collections, University of Amsterdam), Evelien Campfens (Leiden University), Koosje Spitz (UNESCO) and others (all to be confirmed).
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