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25.11.2015 - UNESCO Office in Beirut

UNESCO and UNIFIL: Seminar on the 1954 Hague Convention for the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict

Throughout our long human history, wars and conflicts have always constituted serious threats to cultural heritage. Since ancient times, and going into world wars I and II, looting and destruction of cultural heritage were part of ongoing battles.

As witnessed in countries living an armed conflict in the region, cultural heritage is particularly at risk, owing to its inherent vulnerability and tremendous symbolic value. Intentional targeting and destruction of heritage sites, illicit trafficking of artefacts, and illegal excavation are causing major losses that can deprive a community of its memory, the physical testimony to its past, but also of a precious resource for social and economic wellbeing.

With these new enormous challenges, it has become necessary to develop and improve the mechanisms and tools for the protection of cultural property, especially in the case of disputes. As the leading organization in this area, UNESCO has sounded the alarm, calling for greater cooperation to take concrete steps to protect the cultural history and unique cultural heritage in this region through awareness, and recalling the obligation to commit by international conventions and treaties, in particular the Hague Convention (1954), which established the rules for the protection of cultural goods during armed conflict. This Convention is the first international treaty designed to protect the cultural heritage in the context of war, and has highlighted the concept of common heritage and led to the creation of the International Committee of the Blue Shield (ICBS), headed currently by Director-General, Mr. Julien Anfernz of the International Council of Museums (ICOM).

In this context, and under the patronage of the Minister of culture of Lebanon, Mr. Raymond Araiji, UNESCO Office in Beirut in collaboration with the UNESCO's Cultural Heritage Protection Treaties Section organized in partnership with the Organization of the International Committee of the Blue Shield, an "Awareness Raising Seminar on the Implementation of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two (1954 and 1999) Protocols".

Forty senior officers from the UNIFIL's military sections (Infantry, the Armor/Tanks, the Artillery as well as the Air force); in addition to high level officers working in legal and political departments participated in this event held on 24 and 25 November in UNIFIL Headquarters in Naqoura, Southern Lebanon.

The seminar was composed of five thematic sessions, providing participants with a wide and detailed overview of the Convention's legal assets, penalties, and best implementation practices, focusing on military measures, with practical examples from the region. These sessions were facilitated by international and national experts, and were distributed as follows:

  1. Introduction into the Hague Convention and its two Protocols;
  2. Specific examples of UNESCO’s activities regarding the region;
  3. Military aspects of the implementation of the Hague Convention and its two Protocols;
  4. Measures of respect relating to The Hague Convention and its two Protocols;
  5. Penal aspects of the Hague Convention and its two Protocols.

Dedicated to UNIFIL officers (military and civilians), this seminar comes to follow up on the recommendations declared during a first similar event held in Beirut in June 2013 for the Lebanese Army.

Senior Culture programme Officer at UNESCO Regional Office in Beirut, Mr. Joseph Kreidi read the opening statement to launch the workshop, stressing in his speech that "the protection of cultural heritage is one of the biggest challenges facing us now, and it is not only governments' responsibility, but also the international community with all of its components". Mr. Kreidi hoped for "Lebanon to join the 68 States that have ratified the second Protocol to the Hague Convention", stressing the need "to encourage States to ratify the Convention and to support them in implementing their provisions in order to provide genuine protection for cultural property". Mr. Kreidi stated that one of the main objectives of the seminar is to increase coordination and cooperation between the various parties concerned; namely heritage experts, the Lebanese army, internal security forces, and the UNIFIL. The protection of cultural heritage in the event of armed conflict in Lebanon is not possible without a comprehensive approach". UNESCO expert also invited attendees to "come up with constructive ideas to protect cultural heritage and to work towards the implementation of these ideas"

. For his part, Commander of peacekeeping forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) Gen. Luciano Bortolano praised this workshop, which is "the first of its kind". Bortolano thanked UNESCO for organizing this workshop to "introduce UNIFIL Officers to mechanisms and legal instruments in place for the protection of cultural heritage during conflict, especially considering the fact that UNIFIL troops are deployed in a Lebanese region that is renowned for its famous archaeological sites, and after recently witnessing the systematic destruction of unique archaeological sites in the region".

Speaking at the seminar, representative of the Minister of Culture, Mr. Sarkis Khoury stated that "Lebanon had ratified the 1970 UNESCO Convention on ways of prohibiting and preventing the illicit export and transfer of ownership of cultural property", hoping that all parties concerned will apply protocols correctly. He also considered that this workshop "holds a special significance for UNIFIL, as peacekeepers. Awareness about the importance of cultural heritage is the main base for its protection in times of peace, and for taking the strategic steps needed in times of conflict".

Expert Friedrich Schipper of Austria praised UNESCO Beirut Office for being one of the best examples of awareness-raising about the Hague Convention, inviting attendees to rally support in their respective countries for the ratification of the Convention's second Protocol.

Also speaking on this occasion Blue Shield Chairman Karl von Habsburg-Lothringin.

In conjunction with raising awareness about the Hague Convention, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova launched the #Unite4Heritage campaign, first in Baghdad and then during her official visit to Lebanon in May 2015, as a global movement led by UNESCO aiming to celebrate cultural heritage and cultural diversity and advocate for their preservation on a global level, in response to the unprecedented attacks heritage, and mobilize support for heritage protection in areas where risk and stand up to extremism and radicalism and the mobilization of youth and civil society on social networks.


The Hague Convention:

The Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict is an international treaty that calls for the Protection of Cultural Property during war. It was signed on May 14, 1954 in the city of The Hague, Netherlands, and entered into force on August 7, 1956. More than 100 countries ratified this Convention.

The convention notes a protective sign facilitating the process of identifying the protected cultural property during armed conflict. It is also possible to triple use that mark to indicate that this cultural property is exceptionally important and is subject to special protection.

In the wake of the Second World War, UNESCO adopted the Hague Convention ( 1954), which established rules for the protection of cultural goods during armed conflicts. This Convention was the first international treaty designed to protect the cultural heritage in the context of the war, which highlighted the concept of the common heritage and led to the establishment of the International Committee of the Blue Shield (ICBS), currently headed by Mr. Julien Oinvernz of the International Council of Museums (ICOM).

The Secretary-General of the United Nations bulletin, issued in 1999 on respect for the United Nations forces of international humanitarian law, prevents these forces from "carrying out attacks on artistic, engineering, and historical monuments, as well as archaeological sites, art works, places of worship, museums and libraries, which constitute the peoples' cultural and spiritual heritage". The Bulletin also prevents theft and looting and misappropriation of cultural property as well as any act of sabotage or acts of Torah.adavh to the Hague Convention, international humanitarian law contributed to the adoption of protocols noticed infringement of cultural property to prevent the commission of acts of aggression and punish the perpetrators of these acts.

"Damage to cultural property belonging to any people whatsoever means damage to the cultural heritage of all mankind, since each people makes its contribution to the culture of the world" (La Hague Convention)

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