What's In Blue

Posted Thu 23 Mar 2017

Briefing and Draft Resolution on Protection of Cultural Heritage in Armed Conflicts

On Friday morning (24 March), the Security Council will hold a briefing and will vote on a draft resolution on the protection of cultural heritage in the event of armed conflicts. Briefings are expected from Irina Bokova, Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); Yuri Fedotov, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) via video teleconference; and General Fabrizio Parrulli, Commander of the Italian Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage.

The draft resolution that will be put to vote tomorrow is the first resolution to focus specifically on the issue of the protection of cultural heritage in the event of armed conflicts. Penholders France and Italy presented the draft to the wider membership early last week. Council members held several rounds of negotiations at expert level and the draft was put under silence procedure on the morning of 22 March. Following further negotiations after silence was broken, it was put in blue earlier today. Although Council members seem to be generally supportive of the protection of cultural heritage in armed conflicts, it seems there were a range of diverging views on the appropriate ways to address specific aspects of this issue.

Ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, notably in Iraq and Syria, as well as some in Africa such as Mali, have brought considerable attention to the issue of the destruction of cultural heritage. Over the past several 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. The Council has adopted several outcomes focused on this interlinkage. On 12 February 2015, the Council adopted resolution 2199 which aimed to disrupt financing of terrorist organisations, notably the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Al-Nusra Front (ANF) whose operational capacities had benefitted from the illegal trade of oil, trafficking of cultural heritage, ransom payments, and other outside donations. On 27 April 2016, as a follow-up to resolution 2199, France and then Council member Jordan organised an Arria-formula meeting on combating the destruction, smuggling and theft of cultural heritage as well as accountability for these actions. On 20 January, the Council adopted a press statement (SC/12690) on the destruction of cultural heritage and executions in Palmyra, Syria.

In addition, the mandate of the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) since it was established in 2013 has included assisting the transitional authorities in the country with the protection of cultural and historic sites in collaboration with UNESCO. This is currently the only active UN peacekeeping mission that has this provision in its mandate.

This issue has also been one of interest to the penholders, France and Italy, outside of the Council. During its campaign for election to the Security Council, Italy stressed the importance of the protection of cultural heritage and organised a number of events within the UN on this topic. . France, together with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), launched an initiative which resulted in a December 2016 conference in Abu Dhabi on Safeguarding Endangered Cultural Heritage attended by 40 countries. A declaration from the conference emphasised two main goals: the creation of an international fund for the protection of endangered cultural heritage in armed conflict, and the creation of safe havens to safeguard endangered cultural property in the countries affected, in a neighbouring country, and if necessary in another country. In addition to emphasising the role of UN institutions, particularly UNESCO, the declaration called for the support of the Security Council in achieving the aforementioned objectives.

Draft Resolution
The initial draft text seems to have drawn on elements from several prior Council outcomes pertaining to counter-terrorism, most notably resolution 2199. In addition, the penholders have incorporated relevant language used in the outcomes of other UN bodies and agencies as well as international conventions and other sources of international law. Resolution 2199, which forms the basis for the proposed draft, was limited in scope because it dealt only partially with the issue of the protection of cultural heritage in the context of terrorism primarily in the territory of Iraq and Syria. On the other hand, this draft resolution aims at expanding the context to include the protection of cultural heritage internationally in the event of armed conflict, not only in the context of terrorism. Some Council members, most notably Russia and Egypt, were uncomfortable with this wider scope. These members argued that the draft would create a vague framework and was trying to address a diverse range of actors. Russia, together with several other members, wanted a more focused approach. These members argued that the draft should focus mainly on the terrorist threat to cultural heritage, and be limited to specific geographic locations such as Iraq and Syria where this threat is most evident.

The initial draft text included references to the two main outcomes of the 2016 Abu Dhabi conference, welcoming the intention to create an international fund for the protection of cultural heritage, as well as encouraging the creation the network of safe havens in the country of origin, and as a last resort in another country. The reference to the Abu Dhabi conference was an issue of contention for some members of the Council, most notably Egypt. 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 place emphasis on the importance of respecting sovereignty. Only two countries in the world, France and Switzerland, have enacted legislation that allows for the creation of safe havens for cultural heritage. Some members therefore raised concerns regarding the universal applicability of this concept as proposed by the initial draft. As a compromise, the draft emphasised that member states have the primary responsibility for protecting their cultural heritage, and if appropriate through creation of safe havens in their own territory rather than internationally.

Another issue of contention seems to have been the reference to the creation of an international fund for the protection of endangered cultural heritage that had been announced at the Abu Dhabi conference. The initial draft had welcomed that initiative and encouraged members to contribute to such a fund. It seems that some members raised concerns about focusing on the outcomes of the Abu Dhabi conference because its participants included only a selection of UN member states and the outcomes do not represent the views of some members. Furthermore, they argued that UNESCO was already engaged in various initiatives and funding projects for the protection of cultural heritage. As a compromise, the draft includes initiatives led by UNESCO in this regard, as well a reference to the international fund announced at the Abu Dhabi conference.

Aside from these more contentious issues, Council members seem to have been in broad agreement on the proposed list of measures to be implemented by member states. These include, inter alia, creating and improving national inventory lists of cultural heritage and sharing this data with relevant authorities; adopting regulations on export/import of cultural property in line with international standards; information sharing with INTERPOL, UNESCO, UNODC and other agencies; and taking steps to ensure safe return of cultural property that has been displaced or removed due to armed conflict.
With regard to peacekeeping operations, the draft affirms that their mandates could include assisting relevant authorities, upon their request, in the protection of cultural heritage, in collaboration with UNESCO.

The draft also requests the Secretary-General to provide, by the end of the year, a report on the implementation of the resolution in cooperation with UNODC, UNESCO, the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team of the 1267/1989/2253 ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee, and other relevant UN bodies.
After lengthy and at times difficult negotiations, it seems that the penholders managed to present a draft that took into consideration the major concerns of some members. Still, there is a possibility that some members might raise issues during an explanation of their vote regarding certain aspects of the negotiation process or other concerns.

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