APPROACHES AND INSTRUMENTS
The Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict
The UNESCO Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict covers immovable and movable cultural heritage. The success of its first protocol, adopted in 1954, which sought to protect ‘property of great importance to the cultural heritage of every people’, was hampered primarily by incomplete lists and a lack of clear identification.
In the wake of further conflicts, a second protocol was passed in 1999 with the purpose of strengthening the convention. It provided for the establishment of a system of enhanced protection for ‘cultural heritage of the greatest importance for humanity’.
The effectiveness of the convention and its two protocols ultimately depend on good faith and reciprocity, and it lacks useful purpose unless all parties to a conflict are signatories. If any such parties are not state actors, moreover, they are disqualified from signing the convention.
UNESCO World Heritage Convention 1972
The 1972 UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (World Heritage Convention) ranks among the most important global conservation instruments. Its primary mission is to identify and protect the world’s natural and cultural heritage considered to be of outstanding universal value. It embodies the visionary idea that some places are so important that responsibility for their protection rests not solely with a single nation, but with international community as a whole. State parties signing the convention agree to refrain from any deliberate measures capable of damaging the cultural and natural heritage of other parties to the convention, and to help other parties to identify and protect their properties.
Implementation of the convention is facilitated through operational guidelines, which define the procedures for new inscriptions, site protection, danger listings, and the provision of international assistance under the World Heritage Fund.
The convention is governed by the World Heritage Committee with the support of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, the Secretariat for the Convention, and three technical advisory bodies to the Committee: IUCN, ICOMOS and ICCROM. IUCN is the advisory body on natural heritage. It monitors listed sites and evaluates new sites nominated to the World Heritage List by applying the relevant natural criteria for selection.
The convention recognises both the spectrum of threats of destruction to cultural and natural heritage, including outbreaks of armed conflict, and the often insufficient scope of resources available to the affected state party.
List of World Heritage in Danger
The World Heritage Committee prepares and publishes a List of World Heritage in Danger containing sites that are threatened by serious and specific dangers, such as:
- development projects
- the outbreak or threat of armed conflict
- natural disasters.
The Committee seeks state parties consent prior to any ‘in danger’ listing, but in cases where a site is threatened and there is no effective government in place, it can reach a decision on its own. Each time the Committee makes a new entry in the list, it is required to publicise it immediately.
The List of World Heritage in danger currently contains 54 properties, more than half of which are situated located in Middle East. Most World Heritage properties in the territories of Syria, Yemen and Iraq are inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
Legal action through the International Criminal Court
The ICC is an intergovernmental organisation and international tribunal that sits in The Hague in the Netherlands. In recognition of the importance of protecting cultural heritage from attack in times of conflict, UNESCO and the ICC formalised and enhanced their collaboration by signing a letter of intent in November 2017.
In a statement marking the signing, Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, said, “The deliberate destruction of cultural heritage not only affects people’s historical identity but fuels sectarian violence and hampers post-conflict recovery and peace-building. UNESCO and the ICC must strengthen their cooperation for the protection of cultural property in armed conflicts, as this is a humanitarian and security imperative.”
The recent historic ruling of the ICC in the case of the destruction of shrines and mausoleums in Timbuktu (Mali), which was the first of its kind, clearly demonstrated that the intentional targeting of cultural heritage is a serious crime which causes significant suffering to those immediately affected and beyond. The court subsequently issued a reparation order, establishing that the victims of such crimes were entitled to compensation.
The importance of prosecuting those responsible for war crimes against cultural heritage was echoed in the ground-breaking UN Security Council Resolution 2347, which was the first to condemn the unlawful destruction of cultural heritage. In recent years these unprecedented developments have prompted frequent exchanges and collaboration between UNESCO and the ICC Office of the Prosecutor, based on the convergence of aims within their respective independent mandates.