Three World Heritage sites in Cyprus and a fourth in Italy have been given "enhanced protection" status by the Committee for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, which held its fifth meeting at UNESCO Headquarters from 22-24 November. The sites, which are the first to be granted this status, are Choirokoitia, Paphos (sites I and II) and the Painted Churches of the Troodos Region in Cyprus and Castel del Monte in Italy.

"We do not ever want a repeat of the destruction of cultural sites such as the Mostar Bridge in Bosnia and Herzegovina, or attacks like those against the old city of Dubrovnik in Croatia during the Balkans conflict," said Committee Chairman Nout van Woudenberg. "Enhanced protection status reinforces the legal measures in place to prevent such terrible losses to the world's cultural heritage."

 "Enhanced protection" is one of the features of the 1999 Second Protocol to the Hague Convention of 1954 for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. The granting of such protection by the Committee to sites in countries that are party to the Second Protocol can be made under three conditions:  that the site be of the greatest importance to humanity; that it be protected by adequate domestic legal and administrative measures recognizing its exceptional cultural and historic value and ensuring the highest level of protection; and that it not be used for military purposes or to shield military sites.

 This goes beyond the regime of general protection and means that States cannot fall back on the argument of "imperative military necessity" for using or targeting cultural sites in times of conflict. It also involves the obligation by States to make intentional attacks against identified sites a criminal offence or to penalize use of such sites or their immediate surroundings in support of military action.

 Fifty six countries are party to the Second Protocol.The members of the Committee urged States that have not yet become party to this treaty to consider doing so. 

 

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