Military Implementation of Cultural Property Protection

Militaries in action © UNESCO

International security

Nowadays, the international community broadly recognizes that the protection of cultural property in the context of armed conflict is essential for the security of the human environment. Several signatory states to the 1954 Hague Convention and its Protocols have therefore included cultural property protection in their national security policies and doctrine, and instructed their armed forces to act according to the international humanitarian law and regulations concerned.

  • The Convention aims to set the rules for States Parties in case they would engage in armed conflict. Some of the key provisions are to establish in peacetime, within the military, services that ensure respect for cultural property and co-operation with the civilian authorities that are responsible for safeguarding it (Article 7). In addition, the Second Protocol foresees incorporation of the guidelines and instructions on the protection of cultural property into military regulations. (Article 30)
  • Nowadays, the some provisions of the 1954 Hague Convention are considered customary international law, and therefore applicable whether or not States are parties to the Convention. Today’s armed conflicts often involve non-state armed groups that operate across state borders in semi-coordinated cell-like structures. Yet, they too have to abide to the international rules for the protection of cultural property, although many examples are known of willful and systematic damage to and destruction and looting of cultural property by non-state armed actors.

Cultural property has proved to be a strong agent in post-conflict reconciliation and rebuilding. Therefore, a growing number of armed forces have integrated cultural property protection in their humanitarian operations for social and economic stabilization. Conservation, restoration and repatriation of cultural property facilitate cultural dialogue and the resumption of folklore and traditions strengthens social identities. From a security point of view, UNESCO advocates the insight that respect for cultural property can work as a force multiplier and add to the de-escalation of armed conflict.

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