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UNESCO, UNIFIL hold workshop on protection of cultural property under armed conflict

BEIRUT | iloubnan.info, with agencies - November 27, 2015, 15h42
The ruins of Baalbeck colored in blue during the UN day on October 24, 2015.

Unesco Beirut held the first workshop for UN on the 1954 Hague Convention for the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict.

"Throughout our long human history, wars and conflicts have always constituted serious threats to cultural heritage. Since ancient times, and going into world wars I and II, looting and destruction of cultural heritage were part of ongoing battles," Unesco stated in a communique issued on Friday.

In countries living an armed conflict in the region, cultural heritage is particularly at risk, due to its inherent vulnerability and tremendous symbolic value.

Intentional targeting and destruction of heritage sites, illicit trafficking of artifacts, and illegal excavation are causing major losses that can deprive a community of its memory, the physical testimony to its past, but also of a precious resource for social and economic wellbeing.

With these new enormous challenges, it has become necessary to develop and improve the mechanisms and tools for the protection of cultural property, especially in the case of disputes.

As a leading organization in this field, UNESCO has sounded the alarm, calling for greater cooperation to take concrete steps to protect the cultural history and unique cultural heritage in this region through awareness, and recalling the obligation to commit by international conventions and treaties, in particular the Hague Convention (1954). The Hague Convention established the rules for the protection of cultural goods during armed conflict.

This text is the first international treaty designed to protect the cultural heritage in the context of war, and has highlighted the concept of common heritage and led to the creation of the International Committee of the Blue Shield (ICBS), headed currently by Director-General, Mr. Julien Anfernz of the International Council of Museums (ICOM).

"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" (Hague Convention)

In this context, and under the patronage of the Lebanese Minister of Culture, Mr. Raymond Araiji, UNESCO Office in Beirut in collaboration with the UNESCO's Cultural Heritage Protection Treaties Section organized in partnership with the Organization of the International Committee of the Blue Shield, an "Awareness Raising Seminar on the Implementation of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two (1954 and 1999) Protocols".

Forty senior officers from the UNIFIL's military sections (Infantry, the Armor/Tanks, the Artillery as well as the Air force); in addition to high level officers working in legal and political departments participated in this event held on 24 and 25 November in UNIFIL Headquarters in Naqoura, Southern Lebanon.

The seminar was composed of five thematic sessions, providing participants with a wide and detailed overview of the Convention's legal assets, penalties, and best implementation practices, focusing on military measures, with practical examples from the region. These sessions were facilitated by international and national experts, and were distributed as follows:

1. Introduction into the Hague Convention and its two Protocols;

2. Specific examples of UNESCO’s activities regarding the region;

3. Military aspects of the implementation of the Hague Convention and its two Protocols;

4. Measures of respect relating to The Hague Convention and its two Protocols;

5. Penal aspects of the Hague Convention and its two Protocols.

Dedicated to UNIFIL officers (military and civilians), this seminar comes to follow up on the recommendations declared during a first similar event held in Beirut in June 2013 for the Lebanese Army.

Mr. Joseph Kreidi, Senior Culture programme Officer at UNESCO Regional Office in Beirut,  read the opening statement to launch the workshop. In his speech, he stressed that "the protection of cultural heritage is one of the biggest challenges facing us now, and it is not only governments' responsibility, but also the international community with all of its components".

Mr. Kreidi hoped for "Lebanon to join the 64 States that have ratified the second Protocol to the Hague Convention", stressing the need "to encourage States to ratify the Convention and to support them in implementing their provisions in order to provide genuine protection for cultural property".

Mr. Kreidi also stated that one of the main objectives of the seminar is to increase coordination and cooperation between the various parties concerned; namely heritage experts, the Lebanese army, internal security forces, and the UNIFIL. The protection of cultural heritage in the event of armed conflict in Lebanon is not possible without a comprehensive approach". UNESCO expert also invited attendees to "come up with constructive ideas to protect cultural heritage and to work towards the implementation of these ideas"

For his part, Commander of peacekeeping forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) Gen. Luciano Bortolano praised this workshop, which is "the first of its kind". Bortolano thanked UNESCO for organizing this workshop to "introduce UNIFIL Officers to mechanisms and legal instruments in place for the protection of cultural heritage during conflict, especially considering the fact that UNIFIL troops are deployed in a Lebanese region that is renowned for its famous archaeological sites, and after recently witnessing the systematic destruction of unique archaeological sites in the region".

Speaking at the seminar, representative of the Minister of Culture, Mr. Sarkis Khoury stated that "Lebanon had ratified the 1970 UNESCO Convention on ways of prohibiting and preventing the illicit export and transfer of ownership of cultural property", hoping that all parties concerned will apply protocols correctly. He also considered that this workshop "holds a special significance for UNIFIL, as peacekeepers. Awareness about the importance of cultural heritage is the main base for its protection in times of peace, and for taking the strategic steps needed in times of conflict".

Also speaking on this occasion Blue Shield Chairman Karl von Habsburg-Lothringin and expert Friedrich Schipper from Blue Shield Austria praised UNESCO Beirut Office for being one of the best practices of awareness-raising about the Hague Convention, inviting attendees to lobby in their countries for the ratification of the Convention's second Protocol.

In conjunction with raising awareness about the Hague Convention, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova launched the #Unite4Heritage campaign, first in Baghdad and then during her official visit to Lebanon in May 2015, as a global movement led by UNESCO aiming to celebrate cultural heritage and cultural diversity and advocate for their preservation on a global level, in response to the unprecedented attacks heritage, and mobilize support for heritage protection in areas where risk and stand up to extremism and radicalism and the mobilization of youth and civil society on social networks.

Tags
#CulturalHeritage, #Unesco
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