A new strategy reinforces protection of heritage at risk

22 January 2016

In November 2015, the 38th General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) adopted a Strategy for the reinforcement of the organization’s actions for the protection of culture and the promotion of cultural pluralism in the event of armed conflict.

This document sets the path for the Organizations’ work through two key objectives: on the one hand, strengthening Member States’ ability to prevent, mitigate, and recover the loss of cultural heritage and diversity as a result of conflict; and on the other hand, incorporating the protection of culture into humanitarian action, security strategies and peacebuilding processes.

The recent large-scale and systematic destruction and looting of cultural sites has highlighted the strong connection between the cultural, humanitarian and security dimensions of conflicts and terrorism. Attacks against cultural heritage and diversity are also attacks against people, their rights, and their security. Under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the deliberate destruction of cultural heritage is a war crime.

This has been recognized through numerous international statements and declarations and, most significantly, in Security Council resolution 2199 (2015), which notably established a ban on trade of antiquities illegally removed from Iraq since 6 August 1990 and from Syria since 15 March 2011, recognizing illicit trafficking of antiquities as a potential source of financing for terrorist organizations.

In the face of these unprecedented challenges, the need was recognized for new and more effective approaches by UNESCO, which would build on the existing international legal standards - notably the 1954 Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict - and enhance the scope of their application. In this regard, the strategy adopted by the Organization’s General Conference defines priority areas of action and identifies the resources required for their implementation. The General Conference also called on Member States to contribute to the implementation of the strategy, including through the establishment of mechanisms for the rapid deployment of national experts in situations of emergency, under the coordination of UNESCO, as well as by contributing to the recently established Heritage Emergency Fund.