The challenge of protecting heritage in times of armed conflict by Peter G Stone. News in Conservation Issue 53, April 2016

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While undoubtedly the major causes globally of destruction of cultural property/heritage are urban expansion, increase in land under cultivation, and the development of agricultural-related technologies, it is inevitable that armed conflict will have a detrimental impact on cultural property (i.e. tangible entities such as sites, buildings and moveable artefacts including books, archives, and art) and the wider cultural heritage (i.e. intangible heritage such as song, dance, and oral traditions remembered and ‘carried’ by individuals and communities). In war-thorn places things get damaged and destroyed; non-combatants get killed. Most accept this as an unfortunate but inevitable consequence of conflict. However, at least some of this destruction could be mitigated if the heritage community took appropriate action before conflict begins. This is not to condone any particular conflict; but to accept that conflict is going to take place and to acknowledge a responsibility to aspire to limit its impact on cultural property/heritage.

Following the large-scale destruction of the Second World War the international community developed the 1954 ‘Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict’ which, with its Protocols of 1954 and 1999, remains the primary piece of international humanitarian law concerning the need for cultural property protection during conflict (CPP). CPP was returned to sharp focus during the 2003 invasion of Iraq when the loss of globally important cultural property was widespread.
In 2003 neither the USA nor the UK had ratified the Hague Convention. Partly as the result of pressure from the newly (2006) created USA National Committee of the Blue Shield (see below), the USA ratified the Convention, but neither Protocol, in 2009. At the time of writing the UK has still failed to ratify the Convention or its Protocols but claims to plan to do so in the next session of Parliament.

We study the past, to understand the present, to create the future. Simplistically, cultural property provides the stage for, and tangible evidence of, the wider cultural heritage; without cultural property it becomes significantly more difficult to conserve cultural heritage. Without the tangible evidence of the past - cultural property - the relationship between past, present, and future becomes increasingly difficult to sustain; when cultural property is lost, it is impossible to replace: just as an individual without a memory is a dysfunctional individual so a community or society without a memory – its cultural heritage - can become dysfunctional. Much of this cultural heritage is ‘held within’ cultural property.
This is, of course, not to say that the memory encapsulated within cultural property is always a positive influence for good: the function, importance, interpretation, and uses of cultural property are frequently contested, and are not infrequently problematic. Nevertheless cultural property/heritage, can be key factors in political, social, and economic post-conflict stabilisation and reconciliation, with the potential to foster intercultural dialogue, and frequently providing a stable base for economic development through tourism. While many organisations, for example UNESCO, make significant contributions to this work, this article focusses on the activities of the Blue Shield.

The Hague Convention identifies a Blue Shield as the emblem to identify property under its protection. The 1999 2nd Protocol established a 12 member Inter-governmental Committee to oversee its implementation and identified the Blue Shield, founded in anticipation of the 2nd Protocol in 1996, as an advisory body. The Blue Shield was created by the joint action of the International Council of Archives (ICA), the International Council of Museums (ICOM), the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). Given the focus of these organisations, the Blue Shield reflects the tangible, object-based approach enshrined within the Convention. Since 1999 a number of national committees of the Blue Shield have been created with various degrees of activity and success.

The Blue Shield is referred to frequently as the ‘cultural equivalent’ of the Red Cross. There are, however, three key differences: First, the Red Cross has had some 150 years to establish a world-wide reputation; the Blue Shield celebrates its 20th birthday this year and is virtually unknown.
Second, the Red Cross has a multi-million pound budget; save for a time-limited, short-term, subvention for an office from the municipality of The Hague, the Blue Shield has no income at all except for limited travel funding for the author provided by Newcastle University.
Third, the Red Cross has a paid staff of some 12,000 people in 80 countries; the Blue Shield has no paid staff. It is worth stressing that, despite some suggestions to the contrary, colleagues working with Blue Shield completely, and without reservation, acknowledge and accept that CPP must come second to the Red Cross’ remit to help people. Finally, as the military and associated organisations are the primary actors in conflict, post-conflict, and environmental disaster the Blue Shield tries to work across all of these areas.

Much of the Blue Shield’s work has concentrated on encouraging the military to work more effectively regarding CPP and it promotes the ‘Four Tier’ approach that outlines when cultural heritage professionals should be working with the military and other emergency organisations: long-term; immediately pre-deployment; during conflict; and during post-conflict stabilisation. CPP is never going to be a primary priority for the military but over the last decade numerous Armed Forces have begun to understand that CPP is a clear military responsibility, and a legitimate activity, and that it can help them in their work.
Cultural property is damaged during conflict for at least seven reasons:

[1] protection of cultural property is not included in pre-conflict planning;
[2] it is regarded as legitimate ‘spoils of war’;
[3] it becomes collateral damage;
[4] through lack of military awareness;
[5] through looting;
[6] through enforced neglect (i.e. routine maintenance stops); and
[7] as the result of specific targeting.

While perhaps the Blue Shield can do little about the last two of these at least with respect to [7], under the 2nd Protocol and under the Rome Statute, intentional damage and destruction is now a criminal act. However, the first five could, and should, be mitigated through a closer relationship between cultural property/heritage professionals and those groups most involved in conflict (politicians, the military and other emergency agencies, organisations, and NGOs) and through a better understanding by communities of the multifaceted value of the cultural property all around them. The Blue Shield has concentrated on these issues by: promoting its policies such as the Four Tier Approach; organising training courses for the military, customs, police etc; liaising with the military to promote a better understanding of the need for CPP; providing lists of cultural property that should not be destroyed unless military necessity dictates for countries in conflict; carrying out during/post conflict assessment missions; and producing publications and exhibitions aimed at academic and general public audiences.

Our work is slowly making a difference. Many national committees carry out regular training for their own military. Other training has been done internationally – e.g. for the Cambodia, Lebanese, and New Zealand military, and for the UN forces in Lebanon. Following the publication of an article on the ‘Four Tier Approach’ in the British Army Review, a CPP working Group was set-up in 2014 and the Army is on the verge of establishing a specialised unit with a CPP capability to be used whenever and wherever British forces are deployed overseas. After many years working with the NATO affiliated Civilian/Military Centre of Excellence (CCoE) the CCoE published in 2015 a 78 page booklet aimed at officers entitled Cultural Property Protection Makes Senses (freely available at: UNESCO has commissioned us to produce generic training materials for the military and the right to cultural heritage is being prioritised by the new UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights.

The military are also active. In Europe in 2010 the Leadership Centre (Zentrum Innere Führung) of the German Bundeswehr organised the first of what has become an annual conference called ‘Coping with Culture’. The annual meetings (so far held in Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Austria, and Denmark) have brought together predominantly members of the armed forces of between 10 and 15 European countries, with a smattering of cultural experts, to discuss a wide range of cultural issues facing the military – including CPP. The fourth conference, held in Austria in October 2014, had a particular focus on cultural property protection and was run in cooperation with the Blue Shield. In the UK a symposium ‘Culture in Conflict’, primarily attracting military staff and associated experts, has been held annually for eight years and has begun to address cultural property protection on a regular. All of these, and other conferences, help to raise the profile and understanding of the importance of CPP within the military.

Cultural heritage experts are certainly never going to stop war or even the destruction of cultural property/heritage during conflict; but if we work to influence, train, and provide support to the military we may be able to mitigate the extent of the damage.

Further reading
Stone P G, (forthcoming) 2016 ‘The challenge of protecting heritage in times of armed conflict’, Museums International,
Stone P G, 2013 ‘A four-tier approach to the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict’, Antiquity, 87(335), 166-177
Stone, P G, 2011 ‘Introduction: The ethical challenges for cultural heritage experts working with the military’ in Cultural Heritage, Ethics, and the Military (ed. P G Stone) 2011, Woodbridge, Boydell, 1-28
Stone, P. G., and Farchakh Bajjaly, J., (eds) 2008 The Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Iraq, Woodbridge, Boydell
Stone, P G, 2005 ‘The identification and protection of cultural heritage during the Iraq conflict: a peculiarly English tale’. Antiquity 79: 933–43