Cultural property protection

  • Last updated: 17 Mar. 2021 10:29

The preamble of NATO’s founding treaty states that “the parties to this Treaty are determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilisation of their peoples”. Cultural property is a vital part of people’s identity and of all humanity. From Bosnia and Herzegovina to Afghanistan, the destruction of cultural and religious sites during conflict has had profound and lasting effects. Cultural property protection is an important aspect of NATO’s human security approach to operations and missions.

In Kosovo, part of NATO’s mandate is to protect the Visoki Monastery in Decani.

 

Highlights

  • People’s identity is often connected to symbols that are reflected in cultural property, such as buildings, monuments, artefacts or architecture. Destroying such symbols can shatter links to the past, thus erasing an identity from historical memory.
  • The 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its protocols provide the regulatory instruments, complemented by human rights law and international criminal law as well as UNESCO conventions.
  • Cultural property protection is an essential part of the military environment and plays a specific role in NATO’s tactical, operational and strategic considerations.
  • It contributes to post-conflict stabilisation efforts and aims to strengthen trust and cooperation with local populations.
  • NATO’s military authorities in 2019 developed the Directive on Implementing Cultural Property Protection in NATO Operations and Missions, outlining the legal principles, roles and responsibilities in relation to cultural property protection at NATO.

More background information

NATO recognises cultural property protection (CPP) as an essential consideration in the military environment and a critical indicator of community security, cohesion and identity. As demonstrated by the conflicts in the Western Balkans in the 1990s, the destruction of cultural symbols can have significant political dimensions and become a tactic used to weaken affected communities. Recognising the linkage with the broader protection agenda, cultural property protection is an important aspect of NATO’s human security approach to operations and missions and a valuable component of NATO’s efforts to build peace and security.

NATO’s CPP obligation stems from both its values and international law. The preamble to NATO’s founding treaty states that the Alliance is “determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilisation of their peoples”. In terms of the legal basis, the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its Protocols provide the core regulatory instrument on cultural property protection.

To ensure that the Alliance meets its intents and obligations in its operations and missions, NATO has incorporated cultural property protection into policy and doctrine.

  • The 2016 NATO Policy for the Protection of Civilians clearly states that the protection of civilians in NATO-led operations and missions can include the protection of not only persons but also property and services.
  • In 2017, the Nordic Center for Cultural Heritage and Armed Conflict issued a report: “Best Practices for Cultural Property Protection in NATO-led Military Operations”. This project, funded by the NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme, examined the role of cultural property in the 21st century, NATO’s work on cultural property protection to date, lessons identified from NATO-led and other military operations, and provided a set of recommendations for NATO’s consideration.
  • In 2019, NATO’s military authorities released a directive on implementing cultural property protection in NATO operations and missions, outlining the legal principles, roles and responsibilities in relation to cultural property protection at NATO, including on information-sharing, reporting and training.

Training on the concept of cultural property protection and on its applicability in operational contexts has been developed by the NATO-accredited Civil-Military Cooperation Centre of Excellence in The Hague, the Netherlands.

Cultural property protection in practice:

  • In Kosovo, part of NATO’s mandate is to protect and support the protection of cultural sites such as monasteries.
  • In Afghanistan, NATO forces participated in initiatives and projects on an ad hoc basis, such as offering cultural heritage courses, building temporary facilities to store archaeological finds, rebuilding the National Museum of Afghanistan and protecting cultural heritage in Ghazni.
  • During Operation Unified Protector in Libya, NATO used the data provided by several sources, such as UNESCO and academia, in order to integrate cultural property protection in the planning of NATO airstrikes.