Protecting cultural property in the event of armed conflict

©UNESCO Modibo Bagayoko, Restoration of the sacred gate of Sidi Yahia in Timbuktu, Mali (September 18th 2016)

Attacks on cultural property has become weapons of war simultaneously targeting people, the embodiment of their identity, knowledge institutions as well as freedom of thought. The crisis suffered by the North of Mali since 2012 has demonstrate how protection of heritage regarding the security of people, which is inherent to the protection of human lives, is necessary.

Property losses incurred in times of crisis may deprive communities of moving testimony of the past, which are symbols of the community’s life but also a valuable resource for its social and economical well-being. In the event of armed conflict, the heritage is particularly threatened due to its inherent vulnerability and its major symbolic value. Hence, further to the massive damages inflicted on the cultural Heritage during the Second World War, and taking into account the specificity of armed conflicts situations, the international community adopted in 1954, in the Hague, the first international treaty with a universal vocation dedicated to the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict.

The Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two protocols (1991 and 1999) offers a framework for action to the Dakar Office. Within this framework, UNESCO provides support to Members States by encouraging them to build on Heritage’s positive and unifying force to prevent conflicts, to facilitate the restoration and maintenance of peace, and to encourage reconciliation.

Therefore, in the sub-region, and since the 2012 crisis suffered by Mali, the UNESCO Regional Office in Dakar works with the UNESCO Office in Bamako towards the implementation of actions in favor of the rehabilitation and the safeguarding of Mali’s cultural heritage and ancient manuscripts. In the view of the critical role played by the armed and security forces, awareness raising activities and trainings are organized to help them to become acquainted with the 1954 Convention and to integrate cultural property’s protection in response protocols, military strategies and in all the levels of the chain of command.

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