THREATS TO HERITAGE

The Blue Shield believes that even though damage to cultural property in conflict and natural disasters cannot be completely prevented, it can be limited. Proper preparations in peacetime, or acting in certain ways during and after conflict or emergencies, can mitigate some of the risks, limiting the damage. All of these preparations and activities, however, involve understanding the risks that heritage faces.

Based on current research (listed in our Document Library), the Blue Shield has identified key threats to heritage in conflict and disaster. These are a combination of types of damage and motivations for its destruction: it is only by understanding this combination that we can think about how to stop or mitigate each one. The threats primarily relate to tangible cultural heritage, like buildings, museum and library collections and archives, but it is important to also remember that the cultural rights of people are also affected by a conflict or a major environmental disaster. (For more on heritage destruction and cultural rights see our Law Library).

  • A threat (or hazard) is something that has the potential to cause damage or loss of value (here to cultural property)
  • Vulnerabilities are weaknesses that threats can act on.
  • The risk is how likely the threat is to occur and how great the consequence would be if it occurs, given the vulnerability.

So, for example, collateral damage is a threat, and it is considered reasonably likely to occur in conflict.
A national museum may be particularly vulnerable to being hit, and the consequences of loss if it is are very high, given the importance of its collections.

Therefore the risk of collateral damage to a national museum in conflict is high, and efforts should be dedicated towards mitigating the risk, such as those suggested in the 1954 Hague Convention. These include: identifying the museum as protected cultural property under Article 1 of the Convention, proactively implementing safeguarding measures in the museum in the event of conflict, and informing armed forces of the museum’s location to minimise the chances of collateral damage. (Read more about Risk Management in Cultural institutions in ICCROM’s ABC Method: a risk management approach to the preservation of cultural heritage).