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As armed conflicts rage around the world, threats to cultural heritage become a concern

Ni Komang Erviani

The Jakarta Post

Badung, Bali  /  Fri, October 18, 2019  /  09:59 pm
As armed conflicts rage around the world, threats to cultural heritage become a concern

This image taken from a drone shows the site of the Temple of Bel. (AFP/MARTAK / ICONEM/DGAM)

Cultural heritage across the world has been increasingly targeted in times of armed conflict in the last decade.

UNESCO's director for culture and emergencies Lazare Eloundou Assomo said at an international event last month in Bali that there was a kind of change in the way cultural heritage was targeted.

“Not only because of conflict. Culture becomes the target itself to deny people’s cultural identity, to deny people dignity and also to destruct their social fabric and social life. In the last decade, cultural heritage has been increasingly targeted,” he said.

Assomo said cultural heritage in Mali, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and in Nigeria had been targeted. “It’s not only about the big heritage. We are also talking about the small heritage like small temples, customary villages, galleries, small mosques, which we are not even aware of,” he said.

The biggest challenge in protecting cultural heritage, he said, was the way the entire international community would come together to address the issue. He said destruction of even small heritage may affect the whole world, that is why the world has to come together to prevent it.

Organized by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in partnership with UNESCO and the government of Indonesia, the 8th regional conference on international humanitarian law in Asia Pacific was aimed at strengthening efforts to protect cultural property.

Among the objectives is raising awareness among member states about the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two protocols, as well as to identify effective national mechanisms to implement this treaty.

ICRC legal adviser Benjamin Charlier explained that 20 years after the creation of the 1999 Protocol to the 1954 Hague Convention, only 82 countries had ratified it. Indonesia is among the countries that has not ratified the 1999 Protocol.

Alexandre Faite, head of ICRC’s regional delegation for Indonesia and Timor-Leste, said many of today's armed conflicts were characterized by the tremendous suffering they caused to civilians. “There are victims of direct attacks or indiscriminate attacks, of hostilities conducted in densely populated areas, they suffer from hunger and displacement, are deprived of access to health services,” he said.

“This year we celebrate 20 years of the 1999 Protocol to the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. So, it’s a great opportunity to promote this instrument,” he said.

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