The Committee for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, which met at UNESCO Headquarters, Paris from 6 to 7 December 2018, came to an unanimous decision to add to the International List of Cultural Property under Enhanced Protection the Monastery of Geghard and the Upper Azat Valley (Armenia), Tugendhat Villa in Brno (Czech Republic), Villa Adriana (Italy) and the National Central Library of Florence (Italy). Three of the four properties World Heritage sites, and the fourth is located within the boundaries of a World Heritage site.
Armed conflicts destroy lives and communities, and very often cultural heritage such as monuments, libraries and museum collections also suffer the same fate. Such atrocities deny communities crucial elements of their identity, history and economy, necessary to post-conflict recovery processes. In this respect, protection of cultural property should be prioritized during times of peace to mitigate their destruction during times of conflict.
In addition to the safeguarding measures set forth in Hague Convention of 1954 for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (“the 1954 Hague Convention”), its 1999 Second Protocol established an enhanced protection mechanism. This enables a State Party to specifically designate cultural properties of great importance to humanity for enhanced legal protection and ensures that they will not be used for military purposes in the event of armed conflict. Armenia and Czech Republic have just joined other States Parties to the 1999 Second Protocol, notably Azerbaijan, Belgium, Cambodia, Cyprus, Georgia, Italy, Lithuania and Mali, with properties on the enhanced protection list.
There are currently 133 States Parties to the Hague Convention, 110 to its 1954 Protocol, and 82 to its 1999 Protocol, with 8 States having joined the 1999 Protocol in 2018, the highest since 2005.
The Committee also decided to grant financial assistance to Afghanistan and Mali, through the Fund for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, to support the national implementation of the 1999 Second Protocol. Within the framework of this international assistance, the Government of Afghanistan will ensure the implementation of peacetime preparatory measures, and harmonization of national penal legislation.
Ms Lorena Sol de Pool, the Ambassador of El Salvador, and Permanent Delegate to UNESCO, is Chairperson of the Committee and stressed “the importance of the protection of cultural heritage is central to reconciling communities and is instrumental in driving post-conflict peace and reconciliation.”
Building the capacity of militaries on penal legislation and safeguarding measures for protection of cultural property is crucial. UNESCO worked closely with the United Nations peacekeepers and national militaries in the organization of capacity-building activities in three countries this past year. This is in line with UNESCO’s 2015 Strategy for the reinforcement of the Organization’s action for the protection of culture and the promotion of cultural pluralism in the event of armed conflict, and its associated Action Plan, for which the Committee appealed to all Parties to the Hague Convention to implement.
The 1999 Second Protocol will be celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2019. The Government of Switzerland announced the hosting and funding of an international conference in Geneva in April 2019 to mark the occasion and increase visibility and awareness of the instrument, as well as devise recommendations that will define the vision and future of the 1999 Second Protocol.
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