13.12.2016 - Culture Sector

Committee Takes Decisions for the Protection of Cultural Property in Armed Conflicts

Historical Monuments of Mtskheta, Georgia © OUR PLACE Author: Amos Chapple

Ongoing conflicts and unprecedented levels of destruction, looting and damage to cultural property around the world highlight the strong connection between the cultural, humanitarian and security dimensions of conflicts and terrorism. Protection of cultural heritage is of critical importance in the struggle against ‘cultural cleansing’ and in the promotion of cultural diversity, social cohesion and reconciliation, and is central to the work of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Committee for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.  Focused on the implementation of the 1999 Second Protocol to the 1954 Hague Convention, the Committee held its 11th meeting at UNESCO Headquarters from 8 to 9 December 2016.

Having elected its new Chairperson, Mr Sophann Ket (Cambodia), the Committee took several decisions among which were the granting of enhanced protection to the Tomb of Askia in Mali, and to the Historic Monument of Mtskheta in Georgia, both World Heritage sites. The 1999 Second Protocol elaborates the provisions of the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict relating to safeguarding of and respect for cultural property and the conduct of hostilities. The category of “enhanced protection” may be requested by States Parties for cultural property that is particularly important for humankind, enjoys adequate legal and administrative protection at national level, and is not used for military purposes, and for which specific sanctions are imposed for serious violations with respect to such cultural property. 

The Committee also examined requests for international assistance related to emergency measures under the Fund for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.  It granted  35,000 USD to Mali and 50,000 USD to Libya, while also strongly encouraging the relevant Libyan authorities to submit a request for the granting of enhanced protection, and requesting both countries to provide detailed reports on the use of the financial assistance.

The Committee also discussed the “Strategy for reinforcing UNESCO’s action for the protection of culture and the promotion of cultural pluralism in the event of armed conflict”, which was adopted in November 2015. The Strategy aims at strengthening Member States’ ability to prevent, mitigate, and recover the loss of cultural heritage and diversity as a result of conflict, and also to incorporate the protection of culture into humanitarian action, security strategies and peacebuilding processes.  The Action Plan developed in the framework of the Strategy focuses on the development of training tools, capacity building for national law enforcement, armed forces and the legal sector on cultural property protection and illicit trafficking of cultural objects, integration of these elements in UN peace-keeping operations (including police and civilian components), and risk assessment and emergency planning for heritage in areas at risk


In view of the many threats cultural heritage is facing today, not only due to conflict but also in terms of looting and natural disasters, the Committee emphasized the need for increased synergies and coordination between the 1954 Hague Convention and its two Protocols, and other UNESCO Culture Conventions. In particular, cooperation  is underway with the 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage and the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, and new synergies have been explored with the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

The Committee is composed of twelve States Parties to the 1999 Second Protocol from a total of 69.   At the meeting, which was attended by over 120 participants, Francesco Bandarin, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Culture, called for wider ratification, stressing that “this is a critical matter and the call is particularly strong towards those countries in conflict or post-conflict situations.” In closing, Mechtild Rössler, the Director of the Heritage Division encouraged all participants to promote the 1954 Convention and join forces to work on the implementation of the “Strategy for reinforcing UNESCO’s action for the protection of culture and the promotion of cultural pluralism in the event of armed conflict”.


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