UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova and the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Peter Maurer, signed a partnership agreement paving the way for the two organizations to undertake joint projects to enhance the protection of cultural heritage in the event of armed conflict.

“As the impartial, neutral and independent keeper of international humanitarian law, the International Committee of the Red Cross is a key partner for UNESCO in emergency situations during which it is of utmost importance to protect cultural heritage as the bearer of peoples’ identity, dignity and resilience”, said Ms Bokova. “This partnership is another testimony to the growing global awareness that protecting cultural heritage is not just a cultural emergency but indeed a humanitarian imperative”.

The signature of this Partnership Agreement comes as a direct response to the strategy for the reinforcement of UNESCO’s actions for the protection of culture and the promotion of cultural pluralism, adopted by the Organization’s 38th General Conference in November 2015. One of the objectives of the strategy is to “incorporate the protection of culture into humanitarian action, security strategies and peacebuilding processes by engaging with relevant stakeholders outside the culture domain”.

Irina Bokova expressed confidence “that this agreement provides opportunities to enhance UNESCO’s ability to collect information on the ground in areas of difficult access. It will also help advocate and build capacities for the implementation of the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two Protocols among officials and humanitarian actors”.

The recent large-scale and systematic destruction and looting of cultural heritage sites have highlighted the strong connection between the cultural and humanitarian dimensions of cultural heritage protection. Attacks against cultural heritage and diversity are also attacks against people, their rights, and their security. Under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the deliberate destruction of cultural heritage is a war crime. In the face of these unprecedented challenges, there is a need for innovative approaches to build on the existing international legal standards - notably the 1954 Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, so as to enhance their effective implementation.