2019 marks the 20th Anniversary of the 1999 Second Protocol to the 1954 Hague Convention.
In order to celebrate this occasion, UNESCO, in partnership with the Swiss Confederation, organised an international conference on the protection of cultural property in crisis. The conference, held in Geneva on 25-26 April 2019, was attended by over 270 participants from all over the world, including leading figure in the field of international criminal law, ambassadors and ministers, and directors and representatives of NGOs such as ALIPH, ICRC, ICOM, and ICCROM.
It was a great honour for Blue Shield International to be formally invited by UNESCO to join one of the panels about the role of non-governmental actors in the implementation of the 1999 Second Protocol. The floor was given to the President of BSI, Karl von Habsburg, who – with enthusiasm and professionalism –advocated for the necessity of investing more in emergency preparedness during peacetime. The activities carried out by BSI, such as the training conducted in partnership with UNIFIL and the Lebanese armed forces, were mentioned as examples of field training that should become standard practise among State Parties to the 1999 Second Protocol.
The holistic engagement of military personnel, museum and heritage professionals, civil society, and local communities in training activities was defined as key to successful risk preparedness. BSI, which is committed to the organisation of such training courses, encouraged other NGOs to partner with it in order to strengthen the effectiveness of the 1999 Second Protocol on a global scale.
The concepts of collaboration, sharing of best practice, capacity building, and peer-to-peer technical exchange were core pillars of the conference, and were stressed by several panellists.
The conference emphasised that there is still a long way to go before affirming the universality of the 1999 Second Protocol as a legal instrument to protect heritage in crisis. Since 1999, new threats to heritage have risen such as climate change and urban development. In addition, the evolution of the concept of heritage (natural, cultural, mixed, intangible, tangible) has made discrepancies more obvious among the UNESCO Conventions, which has resulted in a lack of coherent approach on the ground.
The 1999 Second Protocol needs to consider these threats and the Committee of the 1999 Second Protocol has the duty to liaise with State Parties, NGOs and all relevant bodies to overcome these challenges.
At the conference, Ms Karima Bennoune, UN Special Rapporteur in the field of Cultural Rights, set an important goal: the number of countries to ratify the 1999 Second Protocol should be increased by 2024 – the 25th anniversary of the 1999 Second Protocol. The conference provided useful recommendations to achieve this goal and laid down the foundations for future synergies among countries: raising social awareness, fundraising, more staff dedicated to the protection of cultural property, more inventories and geo-spatial database that armed forces can use, exchange of expertise, and appeals to famous people to act as representatives of the Convention and its two Protocols.
Those outlined are important steps. Each of these now has to be taken forward by participants to the conference in order to transform words into concrete actions.
In this context, BSI is committed to work towards the goal set for 2024, and to do everything possible both to seek cooperation with other NGOs and relevant bodies, and to constantly adapt its activities to current challenges in order to have a greater impact on the protection of heritage all over the world.