Cultural Rights

Posted 29/9/2016

Dr Emma Cunliffe writes

This week saw the publication of the new report by the Special Rapporteur in the Field of Cultural Rights, to be submitted to the UN General Assembly in the October session. Her topic – the intentional destruction of cultural heritage in conflict.

This report pays particular attention to intentional destruction of cultural heritage carried out by States or non-States actors, whether in times of armed conflict or not, with a specific aim, e.g., attacking cultural diversity and cultural rights; erasing memory of current and past events, civilizations and peoples; erasing evidence of the presence of minorities, other peoples, philosophies, religions and beliefs; or deliberately targeting or terrorizing individuals and groups on the basis of their cultural, ethnic or religious affiliation, or their ways of life and beliefs. These acts may be of different magnitudes, may be carried out systematically or sporadically, and may be part of a wider scheme to forcibly assimilate or deliberately kill a group of people.

The report outlines the ways in which the intentional destruction of cultural heritage during conflict is a violation of human rights and what the impacts of that are, and praises the efforts of those who protect them. The report concludes with a number of recommendations for all parties involved in or experiencing conflict, including calls for effective national and international strategies for preventing, and holding accountable those alleged to have taken part in such destruction; and also calls for support for and protection of defenders of cultural heritage. Recommendations include much needed legislation and prosecution, and education/training – not only for those who are involved directly in the protection of heritage, or in law enforcement, but as a method of tackling extremist ideologies. It highlights the issues faced by cultural heritage protectors, in terms of accessing the sites, but also in terms of reaching the international community, and calls for assistance with asylum, and with visas. Cultural heritage destruction is acknowledged to be part of a wider spectrum of issues, and the report recommends its protection should be incorporated into military practice, peacekeeping mandates, humanitarian missions and post-conflict/peacebuilding initiatives.

Although this report focusses on the intentional destruction during conflict, ‘The Special Rapporteur underscores the importance of also addressing the widespread destruction of cultural heritage engendered by development and modernization,’ thus highlighting the importance of EAMENA’s work. Members of EAMENA were pleased to be able to help the Special Rapporteur with the report, submitting data, and attending one of the expert meetings.