In 2014, in the wake of the willful destruction of cultural and historic sites by armed extremist groups in Northern Mali, the protection of cultural heritage was included for the first time by the Security Council in the mandate of a peacekeeping operation. Some years later, by Resolution 2347 (2017), the Security Council also emphasized that the mandate of any UN peacekeeping mission may encompass assistance to host States “in the protection of the cultural heritage from destruction, illicit excavation, looting and smuggling in the context of armed conflicts”. In principle, the actions undertaken by MINUSMA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali) to implement its cultural mandate have led to valuable results. Nevertheless, this new evolution in the tasks of UN peace missions may raise concerns both at a theoretical and a practical level. In the past, peacekeeping operations have proven to be a highly adaptable instruments for the maintenance of international peace and security. However, as the High-level Independent Panel on UN Peace Operations stressed in 2015, the recent changes in the nature and scope of conflicts and the exponential increase of challenges that peacekeepers face on the ground, clearly show a “widening gap between what is being asked of United Nations peace operations today and what they are able to deliver”. The present article explores the implications of the cultural mandate of MINUSMA, at the legal and operative level, with the purpose of appraising whether it may serve as a model for future UN missions endowed with the mandate to protect cultural heritage. In particular, the attention is focused on the legitimacy of a “cultural” mandate to a UN operation and, in particular, on the repercussions that the robust mandate of MINUSMA may have on the effective protection of world heritage.
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