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What Malians fear more is the condition of about 300,000 ancient manuscripts. For centuries, Timbuktu hosted thousands of students who came to learn about Islam. Books on religious and other subjects were written, copied and traded.
Libraries and institutions there such as the Ahmed Baba Institute of Higher Learning and Islamic Research still preserve and use many of them. If these precious documents meet the same fate as the monuments, the loss would be irreplaceable.
Sadly, the World Heritage Convention and the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two additional protocols have turned out to be toothless. They could not bind the radical militia.
Hope now lies in two places. The statute of the International Criminal Court includes as war crimes the deliberate destruction of cultural properties. Such legal provisions could be improved in scope to become effective deterrents.
A proactive empowerment of local communities to care for and guard their heritage during conflict is another avenue to explore. UNESCO's assistance to local guards in Congo during the time of conflict (2001) to save the world natural heritage sites there was reassuring.
Read more about it at: http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/article3646625.ece