06.12.2016 - Culture Sector

UNESCO Emphasizes Dialogue and Launches Military Manual for Cultural Heritage Protection

©UNESCO/Christelle ALIX

Culture has moved to the frontline of wars and conflicts, both as collateral damage and as a direct target. When armed conflict, intentional destruction and looting damage or destroy cultural heritage, peace and security are simultaneously threatened.  Efforts to curb this scourge include elevating the importance of culture, heritage, and identity through dialogue and education, preparing in advance to minimize threats, and generating social engagement in valuing and protecting cultural heritage across the globe. 

A high-level panel on “Targeting Heritage: in search of new paradigms – save heritage through dialogue” was held on 5 December 2016 at UNESCO Headquarters, and explored how protection of cultural heritage can be strengthened through exchange and outreach.  Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General, in opening the discussion noted that “across the world conflicts are tearing societies and countries apart. We see a huge humanitarian crisis. But at the same time we see mosques, churches, temples and heritage destroyed and our traditions under attack. Just as culture is on the frontline of conflicts, it should be at the frontline of peace. This is why safeguarding culture is part of our global strategy for peace and dialogue.”

Mr Abulfas Garayev, Minister of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Azerbaijan, in discussing the important role of cultural heritage protection in Azerbaijan’s sustainable development and foreign policies, stressed that all people have the right to access their heritage and to pass it on to future generations. “Cultural diversity is always the enemy of those who seek to impose a single world view.  Governments must have the courage to support multi-culturalism” he said.

The crucial involvement of military and security forces in the protection of cultural property in times of conflict was highlighted, and the meeting launched the “Military Manual on Protection of Cultural Property”.  The Director of the UNESCO Heritage Division presented this first-of-its kind training tool published by UNESCO with the support of the International Institute of Humanitarian Law (Sanremo, Italy) and funded by the Republic of Azerbaijan. Mr Fausto Pocar, President of the Institute, explained the importance of training the military in the specificities of cultural property and referenced new regulations, conduct and curricula in this field.  He praised the manual for its “concrete and practical military use”, as it includes best practices, preparatory measures in identifying, moving, and preserving cultural objects during military operations, and legal resources for cultural property protection.

The panel also addressed the role of education and outreach in promoting mutual understanding and respect, and highlighted UNESCO’s Unite4Heritage campaign targeting youth globally with a positive message about protecting cultural heritage and embracing cultural diversity.  Mr Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, United Nations Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, underscored the importance of bringing these messages of culture, identity, diversity and dialogue to young people, noting that “it is the respect for places, objects, cultures and traditions that are the pillars for peace and understanding”.  The impact of international tourism in this connection was emphasized by Mr Jin-Yung Woo of the World Tourism Organization, who pointed to the cultural exchanges of 1.2 billion tourists experiencing heritage in 2015.

Participants discussed how to make protection of heritage an integral part of sustainable strategies to foster development, peace and security.  UNESCO’s six Culture Conventions, and notably the 1954 Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two (1954 and 1999) Protocols are among the normative tools available to governments to promote and protect cultural heritage and diversity.

The event was jointly organized by UNESCO and the Permanent Delegation of Azerbaijan.

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