Last week IFLA attended the International Conference on the 20th anniversary of the 1999 Second Protocol to the 1954 Hague Convention hosted by UNESCO in Geneva, Switzerland. The Conference brought together States representatives, experts, academics and civil society representatives to share achievements and challenges facing the implementation of the Protocol and in protecting cultural heritage against the threats by conflict or disaster.

Before going in too deep about what we learned at the conference and what the outcomes means for IFLA and libraries worldwide, let’s first just summarise, what the 1954 Hague Convention is…

The 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two (1954 and 1999 Protocols) was adopted in the wake of the large-scale destruction of cultural heritage carried out during the Second World War. The Hague Convention is the first multilateral treaty to focus exclusively on the protection of cultural heritage during conflicts.

Several conflicts that erupted in the 1990s, particularly those in former Yugoslavia, revealed gaps in the implementation of the Hague Convention. For this reason, Member States and the Secretariat of the Convention initiated a review of the agreement in 1991.

The result of this collaboration was the elaboration and subsequent adoption of the Second Protocol to the Hague Convention at the March 1999 Hague Diplomatic Conference. The Second Protocol advances a number of legal, military and technical aspects in the protection of cultural heritage, it is therefore also known as the enhanced protection protocol by defining a new category of protection by establishing sanctions in case of violations and crime’s against people’s cultural heritage.

What does this means for libraries?

Recent conflicts have shown that many countries are caught unprepared when either armed conflicts or environmental disasters occur. In the cultural heritage field, it is often seen that support, including funding, is easier reached after a conflict or disaster. All panellists throughout the conference expressed the need for pre-conflict support to safeguarding cultural heritage, as well as placing a strong emphasis on the work around rehabilitation.

On this matter, representatives from Member States expressed challenges in mobilising networks both before- and after a conflict, as well as finding proper training for library, archive and museum personnel as well as military groups.

Benjamin Charlier, Legal Advisor and Head of Advisory Service at the International Committee of the Red Cross expressed the need to be aware of the expertise of each actor and how we need to work together – Member States, experts and civil society. This was furthermore underlined by Ernesto Ottone Ramírez, Assistant Director-General for Culture of UNESCO who stated:

“To have a real impact we need to mobilize all resources!”

The importance of cultural heritage to a community, and the significance of preservation of information and knowledge to expanding society’s knowledge base are embedded in IFLA’s Strategic Plan.

IFLA provides a list of resources on risk mitigation and preparedness, including the IFLA Disaster Preparedness and Planning Manual. IFLA also assists governments, institutions and other stake holders with capacity building in form of fourteen Preservation & Conservation (PAC) Centres around the globe. The PAC Centres hold expertise knowledge on risk management and are local experts on ground.

IFLA also supports other initiatives on protecting cultural property and is one of the founding four of the Blue Shield International. One area of its engagement is its training work for members of the heritage sector and armed forces, ideally in combination. Blue Shield International offers courses that include approaches to cultural property, cultural property law and risk management techniques.

If you want to know more about the work of Blue Shield and how to get involved, click here.

What do we do now?

Although the primary responsibility of the implementation of the Hague Convention and the 1999 Protocol lies with States that are a party to it, the role of non-governmental actors in supporting those States is vital!

There is no need to discuss the importance of protecting our cultural heritage, but merely how do we do it?

Actors across the sector agreed that there needs to be a focus on both pre- and post-conflict work. Training of institutional personnel as well as military forces is in demand and NGOs have a strong capacity to plan, propose and implement concrete action programmes, including advocacy and awareness-raising, capacity building or legal expertise, based on a high level of expertise that represents a valuable asset for States.

As expressed by Karl von Habsburg-Lotheringen, President of Blue Shield International:

“The work [on protecting cultural property] is not possible if we don’t collaborate with all actors. Collaboration is the key!”