UNESCO Beirut provides training for female miltiary personnel on the 1954 Hague Convention and its two Protocols, and the safeguarding of cultural property in times of conflict.
The destruction of cultural property in the course of armed conflicts has been all too common in recent years, with repeated, egregious violations of the existing international legal rules aimed at safeguarding the cultural heritage of all mankind. Such crimes highlight an urgent need to encourage and ensure the implementation of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and of its two Protocols, together with the overall international regime regarding the protection of cultural property.
The armed forces play a key role in preserving and safeguarding cultural property in times of war and conflict. In fact, in accordance with Article 7 of the 1954 Hague Convention, States Parties to this treaty have an obligation to foster in the members of their armed forces a spirit of respect for the culture and cultural property of all peoples. The Hague Convention also stipulates States Parties to maintain an appropriately trained military personnel: Article 30 of the Second Protocol to the 1954 Hague Convention, requires States Parties to develop and implement, in cooperation with UNESCO and relevant governmental and non-governmental organizations, peacetime training and educational programmes on the protection of cultural property for the military. In this framework, UNESCO assists Governments to build the capacities of their military personnel in the field of protection of cultural property.
Against this backdrop, and building on UNESCO’s priority of achieving gender equality, UNESCO Beirut launched on 1 October 2019 a first-of-its-kind three-day workshop addressed to female members of the armed offices, aiming at strengthening their knowledge on cultural property protection in armed conflict, thus reinforcing their capacities and contributing to their career development. Around 40 women from the armed forces participated in the event, with different backgrounds (military officers, civilian legal advisers, and military planners). They came from from Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, and the UNIFIL.
The opening ceremony, held at UNESCO Beirut office premises, was organized under the patronage and in presence of Lebanon’s Minister of Culture Dr Mohammad Daoud, with the participation of high-level personalities, including: Lebanon’s Minister of State for the Economic Empowerment of Women and Youth Mrs Violette Safadi, DG of the Directorate General of Antiquities at the Ministry of Culture Mr Sarkis El Khoury, Representative of the Lebanese Armed Forces Commander in Chief Colonel Ziad Rizkallah, UNESCO Beirut Director Dr Hamed al Hamami, Secretary-General of the Lebanese National Commission for UNESCO Dr Tala Zein, and UNESCO Beirut’s Programme Specialist for Culture Engineer Joseph Kreidi.
In his welcome words, Kreidi noted that: “Cultural heritage is an important element of the cultural identity of societies, groups and individuals, and of social cohesion, and its deliberate destruction has consequently detrimental consequences for human dignity and human rights. One of the fundamental principles contained in the preamble to the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict states that ‘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’. Hence the importance of this workshop, especially given that the Arab region is suffering from many wars”.
Kreidi added: “This three-day workshop organized by UNESCO is unique as it is the first in the world to be addressed exclusively to female military personnel. Participants will learn about the protection of cultural property during armed conflict and military occupation. Participants from different backgrounds will be able to understand how they can contribute to the protection of cultural property from their different strategic locations and at different levels of command”.
In his speech, UNESCO Beirut director Dr Hamed Al Hamami said: “ The destruction of cultural property during armed conflict has become extremely common in recent years, with egregious and repeated violations of existing international legal norms aimed at protecting the cultural heritage of all mankind. These crimes highlight the urgent need to promote and ensure the implementation of the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its Protocols, as well as the comprehensive international regime for the protection of cultural property. To this end, there is an increasing need for appropriate training of actors playing a key role in conflict scenarios, primarily the armed forces”. Al Hamami added: “ The main objective of this workshop is to provide specific military-focused accounts of the relevant international legal obligations of states and individuals, in particular the ones stipulated under the 1954 Hague Convention and its two Protocol, in relation to the protection of cultural property in armed conflicts with suggestions as to best military practice at the different levels of command during the different phases of military operations, whether by land, sea or air. The workshop also aims to support female military officers in professional development through enhancing their knowledge on the protection of cultural property”.
In her turn, Minister Safadi stated: “The wars we are witnessing, especially in the Arab and Islamic world, have resulted in the destruction of a large part of human heritage dating back thousands of years. The loss of cultural heritage is saddening as it causes a loss in memory and identity”. She added: “We are delighted to see female officers in the armed forces from Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan, as well as from Lebanon, being trained, just like their male counterparts, on protecting cultural property in their country. They give a beautiful example of women’s role in the society. Thank you, female officers, for protecting our history, our identity, and our culture in this part of the world!”.
As to Minister Daoud, he asserted: “The world, and in particular the Arab region, are burdened with wars and conflicts, which are affecting both human lives and monuments. After Lebanon ratified the 1954 Hague Convention and its First Protocol in 1960, it sought to complete all legal procedures leading to the ratification of its Second Protocol. To this end, the Ministry of Culture has organized, in partnership with BlueShield, training workshops and conferences to incite all segments of the Lebanese society from armed forces, to civil society and students, to municipalities, on the importance to preserve the tangible and intangible cultural heritage, especially in times of armed conflict.” Minister Daoud announced that the Lebanese Parliament approved in its last plenary session the law for the ratification of the Second Protocol of the Hague Convention, and considered that “this is a positive step towards the safeguarding of cultural heritage”.
For two days, through a variety of international and local experts’ presentations and panels, the participants will be introduced to the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two Protocols, and will get a better understanding of their role in protecting cultural property in armed conflict.
On the third and last day of the workshop, participants will go on a site visit to Tyr to achieve their training on a World Heritage Site.