05.02.2018 - UNESCO Office in Apia

Strengthening the Cultural Property Protection through the Blue Shield Approach

The Blue Shield Australia (BSA) 2018 Symposium was held at the National Library of Australia in Canberra from 29 to 30 January 2018 with the theme ‘Cultural Heritage, Climate Change and Natural Disasters’. The Symposium was open to the public, bringing together around 100 audiences from Australia, Japan, NZ, Fiji, and Tonga. A large number of audience reflected the strong interest in the Blue Shield and the UNESCO Convention for the Protection of the Cultural Property in the Event of the Armed Conflicts and its two Protocols.

Blue Shield Australia (BSA) established in 2005 is one of around twenty National Committees organized under the mission and objectives of Blue Shield. Blue Shield has its origin in the UNESCO Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (or the Hague Convention), but Blue Shield is also the name of an international NGO established in the 1990s to address Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) of the culture sector. BSA has been actively engaged in the advocacy for DRR of the cultural institutions and heritage primarily against natural disasters such as bush fires, flooding and cyclones in Australia.

In his keynote speech, Dr. Peter Stone, UNESCO Chair in the Culture Property Protection (CPP) and Peace at Newcastle University, UK, Chair of the UK National Committee of the Blue Shield and the Secretary of the Blue Shield, informed the audience of the expanded scope BS’s activities; “The BS is committed to the protection of the world’s cultural property, and is concerned with the protection of cultural and natural heritage, tangible and intangible, in the event of armed conflict, natural- or human-made disaster.”

BSA has also been a partner with Blue Shield Pasifika (Committee in preparation) (BSP) since its participation in the Preparatory Meeting for the Establishment of BSP held in Fiji in 2016. At the Symposium, BSP was represented by Meretui Ratunabuabua, Chairperson of BSP, Elizabeth Edwards, Secretary-General of BSP, as well as Pulpaki Ika, Deputy Director of the Culture Division of Tonga, sponsored by BSA, UNESCO, the Austrian Embassy in Canberra, respectively. Meretui and Elizabeth at BSP and Dr. Anita Smith, ICOMOS Australia, made presentations at Session 2 on Preparing for Disaster and Climate Change in Australia and the Pacific, presenting the recent activities and capacity building initiatives for the region. 

Addressing the specific challenges facing the heritage sites and community in the coastal zone, Dr Bethune Carmichaeol at the Australian National University and Greg Wilson, Djelk Rangers, made a presentation on the climate change adaptation of the Aboriginal cultural heritage in northern Australia. Overall, the discussions at the Symposium reflected the awareness of the climate change impact on the global peace and security, interacting with the existing issues such as food security, migration, competition for resources in particular water, as well as the vulnerability of infrastructure in Pacific small island states.

UNESCO presentation was focused on the progress in the capacity building for DRR in the culture sector in the Pacific island states through the empowerment of BSP and the promotion of the Hague Convention and its Protocols and the Sendai Framework for DRR. The transversal role of culture in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development 2015-2030 and the particular significance of SDG 4 (quality education), SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities) and SDG 17 (partnership) for the culture sector were highlighted that will guide the global efforts in addressing DRR of cultural heritage and institutions and advocating for further investment in the culture sector.

The Symposium was the excellent opportunity for strengthening the network among cultural professionals both in the public and civil society sector. Discussion with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Canberra, which is another partner for the Hague Convention along with the BS, has been initiated for future partnership activities in the Pacific.    

Symposium website: blueshieldaustralia.org.au/symposium/

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