States underscore urgent need to protect cultural property in conflict zones


Focusing on the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict, over 100 States, observers, representatives from international non-governmental organizations and independent experts, participated in three statutory meetings linked to the 1954 Hague Convention and its 1999 Second Protocol at UNESCO Headquarters from 2 to 6 December 2019.

Opening the 13th Meeting of the High Contracting Parties to the 1954 Hague Convention, Mr Ernesto Ottone R., Assistant Director-General for Culture of UNESCO, recalled that “This landmark meeting marks the 65th anniversary of the adoption of the 1954 Hague Convention. Today, 133 States have joined this treaty reflecting the strong commitment and solidarity of the international community in protecting cultural heritage. This sends a strong message that culture cannot be a target in times of armed conflict.”  

Among the decisions taken, the Committee for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict agreed to grant some $45,000 in international financial assistance to Burkina Faso. These funds will support the training of Burkina Faso’s national authorities in implementing the 1954 Hague Convention and its two Protocols, as well as the strengthening of national criminal legislation to deter crimes against cultural property.

The Committee, which also discussed other emergency and safeguarding measures for countries involved in conflict, is composed of twelve States Parties.  Earlier in the week, the 8th Meeting of the Parties to the Second Protocol elected Austria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Morocco and Nigeria as the six new Members to the Committee, who will each serve a four-year term until 2023. 

A number of initiatives and best practices related to the protection of cultural heritage during armed conflict were discussed. These included specialized training of military personnel and, more specifically, female military personnel, working with civil society actors on emergency preparedness, boosting ratifications of legal instruments, with particular focus on conflict and under-represented zones, and the inscription of sites on the International List of Cultural Property under Enhanced Protection. The importance of regional cooperation and partnerships were also emphasized, with representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross and Blue Shield International, attending the meetings.

Participants stressed the value of working collaboratively and in synergy with stakeholders from multiple fields and other cultural protection conventions, in order to respond effectively to the threats facing cultural property. On the margins of the meetings, a special side event was organized for the military participants to exchange information and best practices on training programmes on the protection of cultural property.