28.02.2014

“The protection of heritage is inseparable from the protection of civilians in armed conflict"

© UNESCO /
Professor Maamoun Abdul Karim, Aleppo

On 27 February, UNESCO hosted a conference of the United Nations University on New wars of the twenty-first century, with the participation of intellectuals and politicians, observers and actors in conflicts over the past decade.

In his opening speech, Daniel Rondeau, representative of the United Nations University to UNESCO, noted that clashes have always accompanied the destiny of men. However, today we see new forms of war where interstate conflicts give way to decentralized ones. New conflicts raise new difficulties and new questions, with the emergence of new concepts, like the principle of responsibility to protect.

It is in this context that the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, referred to the crisis of the "all-military" and the solutions based solely on "hard power" after the interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya. Diplomacy and "soft power" are back to the forefront of crisis management. "There is no need to choose between the protection of human lives and education of children who are the future of the country. There is no need to choose between the protection of human life and the preservation of heritage, which carries the history of a people", she said.

Former French minister Bernard Kouchner, founder of Doctors without Borders and Doctors of the World, traced the history of the responsibility to protect specifying that today, 95% of war victims are civilians. One of the major aspects of modern conflict is the special focus on the respect of human rights and the will of the international community to penalize human rights violations. Fatou Bensouda, Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, presented some of the challenges of the criminalization of war crimes, referring to the case of World Heritage destruction. Dominique de Villepin, former French Prime Minister, warned against the indiscriminate use of force at the expense of diplomatic and political means, regretting the "militarization of spirits" which advocates military intervention with the risk to further destabilize states and worsen already fragile situations. "Responsibility to Protect has acquired a real normative force, but the political solution is the only sustainable, and must accompany any military operation", emphasized Mats Berdal, Professor at the Department of wars studies of King’s College (London).

"In an interdependent world, security is indivisible and we need to build solutions together", said Igor Ivanov, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, underlying the inability of the international community to prevent conflict. He also called for strengthening means and tools of prevention. In the same spirit Ambassador Pierre Morel recalled the urgency of reinforcing the inter- and intra-religious dialogue, and the need to strengthen the monitoring and anticipation of conflict: "There are words that kill, and in every conflict, such as the genocide in Rwanda with the role played by radio Mille Collines, we can trace the rise of violence in the radicalization of speech and religious or cultural stereotypes", he added.

Many speakers also stressed the importance of development and the fight against poverty to build lasting peace. Mohamed El Baradei, Nobel Peace Prize winner called to define objective criteria for any intervention under the Responsibility to Protect. "The forms of war have changed, the war has become a social fact, and we must respond by reinforcing social ties, acting on social levers, human development and education", said Bertrand Badie, Professor at Sciences Po. "I do not believe in military solutions to conflicts that are not military anymore."

"This thought brings us back to the foundations of the work of UNESCO and we will continue: we have another Conference on Culture and Conflict at UNESCO to extend this reflection on the means to reinforce multilateralism in this globalized but fragile world", concluded the Director-General.

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