Protection of Cultural Heritage in Armed Conflict
Expected Council Action
In November, the Security Council may hold an open debate or a briefing on the protection of cultural heritage in armed conflict and from terrorists, in accordance with resolution 2347.
Ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, notably in Iraq and Syria, and some in Africa, such as in Mali, have brought considerable attention to the issue of the destruction of cultural heritage. Over recent years the Council has, on several occasions, considered certain aspects of this issue, particularly the interlinkages with counter-terrorism and trafficking of cultural property by terrorist organisations.
In addition, the mandate of the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) has, since it was established in 2013, included assisting the transitional authorities in the country with the protection of cultural and historic sites in collaboration with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). This is currently the only active UN peacekeeping mission that has this provision in its mandate.
This issue has also been of interest to France and Italy outside of the Council. France, together with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), launched an initiative that resulted in a December 2016 conference in Abu Dhabi on safeguarding endangered cultural heritage, attended by 40 countries. A declaration adopted at the conference called for the creation of an international fund for the protection of endangered cultural heritage in armed conflict and the creation of safe havens for endangered cultural property including, if necessary, in other countries. The declaration called for the support of the Security Council in achieving the aforementioned objectives.
As a follow-up, France, the UAE and the UNESCO announced on 20 March the establishment of a new fund, the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas.
On 24 March, the Council was briefed on “the destruction and trafficking of cultural heritage by terrorist groups and in situations of armed conflict” by Jeffrey Feltman, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs; Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO; Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), via video teleconference; and General Fabrizio Parrulli, head of the Italian Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage.
At the meeting, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2347. Drafted by Italy and France, this was the Council’s first resolution specifically on the issue. The resolution, among other things, condemns the destruction, looting and trafficking of cultural heritage in armed conflicts. It notes that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant ISIL (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and their associates are generating income from engaging in the illegal excavation, looting and smuggling of cultural property to support their operations. The resolution calls on member states to implement necessary measures to advance the protection of cultural heritage within their territory and, if requested, with the assistance of relevant UN agencies. It further notes the ICC’s conviction of 27 September 2016 of Faqi Al Mahdi for directing attacks against religious and historic buildings in Mali in June and July 2012. (Al Mahdi was sentenced to nine years imprisonment.)
During negotiations on the resolution, reference to the Abu Dhabi conference was an issue of contention for some members of the Council, most notably Egypt and Russia, as they felt the outcome of the conference only represents the views of some member states. The concept of the creation of a network of safe havens for cultural heritage outside the country of origin was particularly troubling for members who emphasise the importance of respecting sovereignty. As a compromise, resolution 2347 stresses that member states have the primary responsibility in protecting their cultural heritage, and it encourages states to take preventive measures to safeguard their cultural property, including as appropriate through “safe havens” in their own territories, without reference to “safe havens” outside the country of origin. Welcoming the Abu-Dhabi conference initiative to establish an international fund, as suggested in an earlier draft of the resolution, was also contentious as some Council members felt that it undermines UNESCO’s independent efforts in this regard. As a compromise, the resolution takes note of the funds established by UNESCO and the Abu Dhabi conference alike.
Finally, the resolution calls for the Secretary-General to submit to the Council a report on the implementation of the resolution before the end of 2017. At press time, the report had not yet been submitted to Council members.
Key Issues and Options
The main issue for the Council is to monitor the implementation of resolution 2347 and identify gaps in order to assist member states in protecting their cultural heritage. Since only a short time has passed since the adoption of the resolution, the Council may request the Secretary-General to report to the Council on the protection of cultural heritage in the future.
Notwithstanding the issues mentioned above, Council members seem to be in broad agreement on the importance of protecting cultural heritage in armed conflict and from terrorist groups, and on the various measures that member states should take to achieve that end in coordination with UNESCO, UNODC and other agencies. However, as with the negotiations over resolution 2347, certain measures taken to protect cultural heritage can be sensitive and cause divisions between Western states and those members who emphasise the importance of respecting sovereignty.
UN Documents on the Protection of Cultural Heritage in Armed Conflict
|Security Council Resolutions|
|24 March 2017 S/RES/2347||This was a resolution on protection of cultural heritage in armed conflicts.|
|12 February 2015 S/RES/2199||Was on ISIS and Al-Nusra’s illicit funding via oil exports, traffic of cultural heritage, ransom payments and external donations.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|24 March 2017 S/PV.7907||The Council unanimously adopted resolution 2347 on the protection of cultural heritage in armed conflicts.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|20 January 2017 SC/12690||This condemned the destruction of cultural heritage by ISIL in Syria following reports of the destruction of the tetrapylon and parts of the theatre of Palmyra.|