40 Y E A R B O O K 2 0 1 9 HERITAGE AT WAR MECHANISMS FOR PROTECTING CULTURAL HERITAGE DURING ARMED CONFLICT BIJAN ROUHANI ONE CRITICAL question often raised about the protection of cultural property during armed conflict is whether allocating precious time and resources to saving ‘stones’ is a priority, or even ethical, while there are more important humanitarian emergencies on the ground. For a legal answer, one can refer to international humanitarian law (IHL), under which cultural property belonging to any people should be respected and safeguarded during armed conflict. The international rules for the protection of cultural property were set out in the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. Later, the 1977 additional protocols to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 1998, and the 1999 Second Protocol to The Hague Convention strengthened the IHL with respect to cultural property protection (CPP), which is the duty of all the parties of the Hague Convention to uphold. Under Article 8 of the 1998 ICC statute, ‘intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science or charitable purposes and historic monuments’ is recognised as a war crime. However, the recent and often deliberate heritage destruction in the Middle East and north Africa imply that one must also look for other reasons that establish a basis for the protection of cultural property in times of conflict. The significance associated with heritage can be aesthetic, historical, scientific, social, economic, and spiritual, and its definition has become broader, now embracing various places and forms of culture with local value. This can include anything from gardens and landscapes and living cultural heritage, to audio-visual cultural materials, archives, and, crucially, places and objects associated with memories that define the identities of ordinary people. In this context, CPP is not just about safeguarding those stones and sites admired by archaeologists and tourists; it can be considered a fundamental human right, and thus – as stated by Karima Bennoune, the United Nations Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights – it is ‘not separable from the people itself’. Safeguarding cultural heritage in times of armed conflict and other crises, therefore, is a humanitarian action and a good basis for CPP, and it is important that planning for risk preparedness and risk mitigation strategies occur before heritage places are targeted or damaged. The intentional destruction of cultural heritage, a practice performed by extremists for various reasons, can also fuel ethno-religious hatred and lead to more violence. Therefore, it should be treated as a global security threat. As noted in the 2017 book Heritage and Peacebuilding by Diana Walters, Daniel Laven, and Peter Davis, the potential constructive role of heritage in the process of peacebuilding and reconciliation in war-torn societies makes its protection and recovery a priority. Cultural heritage is not only a thread of continuity, but the architecture with which it is associated can also provide shelter and housing, and contributes to the economy and development of communities. Palmyra and the ancient city of Aleppo in Syria present two different types of cultural heritage at risk due to conflict, both tangible and intangible. The archaeological ruins of Palmyra represent outstanding architectural styles and urban development from ancient times. The destruction of some of its main features by the so-called, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), included temples, the triumphal arch, tower tombs, and the museum, to deliberately reject the historical and aesthetic values associated with the sites. Before the civil war, Aleppo was the largest city in Syria with a major commercial centre and a rich architectural heritage. (Photo: iStock.com/jasminam)