Frequently asked questions on Armed Conflict and Heritage

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1. Why is it necessary to protect cultural property in the event of armed conflict and/or occupation?

 

Cultural property is particularly threatened by armed conflicts and, in some cases, by any resulting occupation. As cultural property reflects the life, history and identity of the community, its preservation helps to rebuild a broken community, re-establish its identity, and link its past with its present and future. In addition, the cultural property of any people contributes to the cultural heritage of humankind. Thus, loss of or damage to such property impoverishes humankind.

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2. Which categories of cultural property are protected under the Hague Convention and its two Protocols? Hague Convention

 

First of all, there is no universal definition of cultural property. Each UNESCO convention, recommendation and declaration defines its subject matter in accordance with its purpose and scope of application.

Thus, Article 1 of the Hague Convention provides the following definition of cultural property for the purposes of this Convention:

  • Movable or immovable property of great importance to the cultural heritage of every people, such as monuments of architecture, art or history, whether religious or secular; archaeological sites; groups of buildings which, as a whole, are of historical or artistic interest; works of art; manuscripts, books and other objects of artistic, historical or archaeological interest; as well as scientific collections and important collections of books or archives or of reproductions of the property defined above;
  • Buildings whose main and effective purpose is to preserve or exhibit the movable cultural property defined above, such as museums, large libraries and depositories of archives, and refuges intended to shelter, in the event of armed conflict, the movable cultural property; and,
  • Centres containing a large amount of cultural property. These are known as `centres containing monuments'.  

The protection granted to cultural property defined under Article 1 of the Convention does not depend on its origin or ownership.

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3. Why is it necessary to adopt safeguarding measures?

 

As cultural property may be damaged or destroyed in the event of armed conflict, it is necessary to undertake all appropriate measures against the foreseeable measures of armed conflict in peacetime by the State where such property is situated. Measures such as protection against fire or structural collapse are helpful not only during armed conflict, but also in case of a natural disaster such as an earthquake or a flood.

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4. Why is it important to respect cultural property?

 

Cultural property must be respected in view of its character and role in society. Damage to cultural property means damage to the cultural heritage of all humankind since each people makes its contribution to the culture of the world. In practice, it means that such property, its immediate surroundings or appliances in use for its protection, are not to be used for purposes likely to expose it to destruction or damage in the event of an armed conflict. In addition, it is necessary to refrain from any act of hostility against cultural property. However, these obligations may be waived in case of imperative military necessity.

It is also necessary to prohibit, prevent and, if necessary, put a stop to any form of theft, misappropriation and vandalism against cultural property; to prohibit reprisals; and to not requisition movable cultural property situated in the territory of another State party to the Convention.

These acts are not subject to any waiver of military necessity.

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5. What are the obligations of the military with regard to cultural property?

 

As the military is the primary party responsible for the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict, it must be made aware of the need to protect cultural property and become familiar with the provisions of the Convention. For this reason, States Parties must foster in peacetime a spirit of respect for cultural property, and must designate in peacetime military services or specialized personnel responsible for securing respect and cooperation with the civilian authorities responsible for safeguarding cultural property. 

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6. What is the distinctive emblem used to mark cultural property? Is it obligatory to mark such property?

 

The distinctive emblem is a shield consisting of a royal-blue square, one of the angles of which forms the point of the shield, and of a royal-blue triangle above the square, the space on either side being taken up by a white triangle. This emblem is displayed on our website.

The marking of cultural property under general protection, which falls within the scope of Article 1 of the Convention, is not obligatory. In other words, it is left to the discretion of each State Party. However, such marking is compulsory for immovable cultural property under special protection; cultural property being transported under special protection; other urgent cases; and, finally, for improvised refuges.

The distinctive emblem is used in a repeated form, with three shields arranged triangularly, in certain situations, or alone in others. The emblem may not be affixed without the proper authorization of the State, duly signed and dated by the relevant authorities.

The practice of marking cultural property is not uniform. A number of States Parties refrain from doing so for different reasons.

The Second Protocol does not include any provisions on the marking of cultural property under enhanced protection with the emblem. However, as cultural property under enhanced protection is, by definition, cultural property, Parties are entitled to mark such property to facilitate its identification.

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7. What is special protection and what are the conditions for its application?

 

Special protection represents a higher level of protection in comparison with the general protection derived from Article 1 of the Convention concerning all cultural property falling its scope, irrespective of origin or ownership. Special protection may be granted to a limited number of:

  • Refuges intended to shelter movable cultural property in the event of armed conflict;
  • Centres containing monuments; and,
  • Other immovable cultural property of very great importance.

The granting of special protection is subject to essentially two conditions: 1) the cultural property in question must be situated at an adequate distance from any large industrial centre or from any important military objective constituting a vulnerable point; and 2) such property may not be used for military purposes.

The granting of special protection is not automatic, but may be granted upon the submission to the Director-General of UNESCO of a request of the State on whose territory the cultural property is found. To obtain special protection, no other State Party may object to the request. The cultural property is granted special protection by its entry in the ‘International Register of Cultural Property under Special Protection’, a special register maintained by the Director-General of UNESCO.

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8. What are the sanctions for violation of the Convention?

 

The Convention provides for the obligation of the States Parties to sanction breaches of its provisions. They are required, within the framework of their ordinary criminal jurisdiction, to prosecute and punish persons who breach or order to breach the Convention. However, the Convention does not contain list of punishable offences. Thus, the elaboration and adoption of concrete sanctions is left to the discretion of each State Party.

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9. Why is it important to protect cultural property in occupied territory?

 

It well may be that cultural property situated in occupied territory is damaged or otherwise affected by military operations. For this reason, the Occupying Power must, as much as possible, support the competent national authorities of the occupied territory in safeguarding and preserving its cultural property. The Occupying Power must also, to the extent possible, take the most necessary measures of preservation if the competent national authorities of the occupied State are unable to do so.

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10. Why was it necessary to adopt the 1954 Protocol?

 

The 1954 Protocol deals with the protection of movable cultural property in occupied territory, a situation which the Convention itself does not address specifically. In particular, it prohibits the export of cultural property from occupied territory and requires the return of such property to the authorities of the territory from which it was removed at the end of hostilities. The Protocol also expressly prohibits the appropriation of cultural property as war reparations.

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11. Why was it necessary to adopt the 1999 Second Protocol?

 

Horrific acts committed against cultural property during many armed conflicts in the 1980s and 1990s highlighted a number of deficiencies in the implementation of the Convention. For this reason, in 1991 the UNESCO Secretariat, together with a number of UNESCO Member States, undertook a review of the Convention in order to elaborate a new supplementary legal instrument to fill in existing gaps, such as the lack of clarity in the interpretation of the clause of “military necessity”, the application of special protection and of the control system of the Convention, and the reinforcement of penal provisions, as well as the lack of an institutional body to monitor the implementation of the Convention. The review of the Convention resulted in the adoption of the Second Protocol to the Hague Convention in March 1999 at The Hague.

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12. What is the contribution of the Second Protocol to the safeguarding of cultural property?

 

The Second Protocol clarifies what concrete safeguarding measures are to be taken. In particular, it is necessary to: prepare inventories, plan emergency measures for protection against fire or structural collapse, prepare for the removal of movable cultural property or the provision for adequate in situ protection of such property, and to designate competent authorities responsible for the safeguarding of cultural property.

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13. How does the Second Protocol improve the respect for cultural property?

 

The Second Protocol specifies the conditions under which the waiver of military necessity, for both the attacker and the defender, can be applied.

It also provides precautionary measures to be taken in an attack as well as those against the effects of attacks.

In relation to occupied territories, the Second Protocol requires that the Occupying Power prohibit and prevent any illicit export, other removal or transfer of ownership of cultural property, any archaeological excavation (except where this is strictly required to safeguard, record or preserve cultural property), any alteration to, or change of use of, cultural property that is intended to conceal or destroy cultural, historical or scientific evidence. Furthermore, no archaeological excavation of, alteration to, or change of use of, cultural property in occupied territory is allowed, unless not permitted by the circumstances, to be carried out without close co-operation with the competent national authorities of the occupied territory.

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14. What is enhanced protection? What are the conditions for its granting?

 

As special protection has met with limited success, the Second Protocol elaborated a new concept of enhanced protection combining aspects of special protection and the criteria related to the outstanding universal value for the listing of cultural property on the World Heritage List under the 1972 UNESCO Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage.

Three conditions must be met before a site is granted enhanced protection:

  • Cultural property in question must be of the greatest importance for humanity;
  • It must be protected by adequate domestic legal and administrative measures recognising its exceptional cultural and historic value and ensuring the highest level of protection; and,
  • It may not be used for military purposes or to shield military sites.

Enhanced protection is granted by the Committee for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. The cultural property in question is then inscribed on the List of Cultural Property under Enhanced Protection.

Unlike the granting of special protection, which requires unanimity, generally speaking, enhanced protection is granted by a two-third majority of the Committee.

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15. What constitutes serious breaches of the Second Protocol?

 

The Second Protocol provides for the following five serious breaches:

  • Making cultural property under enhanced protection the object of an attack;
  • Using cultural property under enhanced protection or its immediate surroundings in support of military action;
  • Extensive destruction or appropriation of cultural property protected under the Convention and this Protocol;
  • Making cultural property protected under the Convention and this Protocol the object of an attack; and,
  • Theft, pillage, or misappropriation of cultural property protected under the Convention, and acts of vandalism directed against cultural property protected under the Convention.

Such breaches must be committed intentionally and in violation of the Convention or the Second Protocol. In the case of any of the first three breaches, any Party may have jurisdiction over the offences even if they have been committed by a foreigner abroad.

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16. What are other violations of the Second Protocol?

 

Other violations include any use of cultural property in violation of the Convention or the Second Protocol, and any illicit export or other removal or transfer of ownership of cultural property from an occupied territory in violation of the Convention or the Second Protocol.

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17. What is the Meeting of the High Contracting Parties to the 1954 Convention? What is its role?

 

The Meeting of the High Contracting Parties brings together representatives of all the States which have become party to the 1954 Convention.

The primary purpose of the Meeting is to study problems concerning the application of the Convention and of the Regulations for its execution, and to formulate recommendations in respect thereof.

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18. What is the Meeting of the Parties to the Second Protocol? What is its role?

 

The Meeting of the Parties brings together representatives from those States which have become party to the Second Protocol.

The primary purpose of the Meeting is to elect the members of the Committee for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, to provide guidelines for, and to supervise the use of the Fund for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict by the Committee, as well as to discuss any problem related to the application of the Second Protocol, and formulate recommendations, as appropriate.

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19. What is the Committee for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict? What is its role?

 

The Committee for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict is an executive intergovernmental body established by the Second Protocol. It is composed of twelve Parties which are periodically elected by the Meeting of the Parties. Its functions may be summarized as follows:

  • Elaborating Guidelines for the implementation of the Second Protocol;
  • Granting, suspending or cancelling enhanced protection;
  • Promoting the identification of cultural property under enhanced protection;
  • Supervising the implementation of the Second Protocol;
  • Examining reports of the Parties;
  • Considering requests for international assistance; and,
  • Determining the use of the Fund for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict

In addition, the Committee co-operates with governmental and non-governmental international and national organizations that have objectives similar to those of the Convention, its 1954 Protocol and the Second Protocol.

As of today, the Committee has held five ordinary meetings and one extraordinary meeting.

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20. What is the Fund for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict?

 

The Fund for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict is a fund in trust. It is established to provide financial or other assistance for preparatory or other measures to be taken in peacetime. It also provides financial or other assistance in relation to emergency, provisional or other measures to protect cultural property during periods of armed conflict, or for immediate recovery after the end of hostilities. Contributions to the Fund are entirely voluntary.

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21. What is the role of UNESCO in the implementation of the Hague Convention and its two Protocols?

 

The Secretariat of UNESCO assists in the promotion and implementation of the Hague Convention and its two Protocols. It provides technical assistance in organizing the protection of cultural property upon the request of the High Contracting Parties or States Party to the Second Protocol. UNESCO may, on its own initiative, make proposals in relation to any problem arising from the application of the Convention and its Second Protocol.

The Secretariat also acts as the secretariat of the Committee for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. It prepares the Committee’s documentation and its agenda as well as agendas of the meetings of the High Contracting Parties and of the Parties, and is responsible for the implementation of its decisions.

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22. How can a State become Party to the Convention and its two Protocols?

Information Kit

The 1954 Convention and its 1954 Protocol

Interested States should deposit an instrument of ratification (for signatory States) or an instrument of accession (for non-signatory States) with the Director-General of UNESCO. The same procedure should be followed to become party to the First Protocol.

 

The Second Protocol

Only High Contracting Parties to the 1954 Convention may become party to the Second Protocol. Interested States should deposit an instrument of ratification, acceptance, or approbation (for signatory States) or an instrument of accession (for non-signatory States) with the Director-General of UNESCO.

The Convention, the 1954 Protocol and the 1999 Protocol enter into force three months after the deposit of the relevant instrument. The one exception to this rule is that, in the case of international or non-international armed conflict, or in the case of occupation, these instruments enter into force immediately.

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