Since December 2012 Belgium presides over the Committee for the Protection of Cultural Property in the event of Armed Conflict, of which it is a member until 2015. Our country has significantly stepped up its action in this frame, both at the national and international level.
Recent events in Egypt, Syria or Mali show that monuments, museums, cultural institutions and archaeological sites are under serious threat during an armed conflict.
These dramatic developments have prompted the international community to strengthen its actions and provide assistance to the affected countries under the auspices of UNESCO. The aid consists of making available funds which have been earmarked by the World Heritage Convention and the Hague Convention or providing technical assistance.
At the international level the Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the event of Armed Conflict is the first universal treaty which aims to protect cultural heritage. More commonly known as the Hague Convention, it was adopted in 1954 after the massive destruction inflicted on cultural heritage during the Second World War. It aims to protect the integrity of these sites with legal measures and measures aimed at identification and preventative conservation.
Two protocols were added to the Hague Convention. Following the adoption of the Second Protocol on 13 October 2010 the Directorate of Monuments and Sites (DMS) of the Brussels-Capital Region is actively participating in the meetings of the Interministerial Commission for Humanitarian Law (IACHR) which focuses on cultural property and on meetings with an international scope.
The Horta Museum is a candidate for enhanced protection
In Belgium the Communities and Regions are working on recognising and identifying major cultural property. In Brussels the publication of the register of listed properties is part of this process.
Establishing common selection criteria is a first indispensable step given the regulatory differences between the federated entities. In the absence of one combined list of all the cultural heritage in Belgium the first step was to propose drawing up an indicative list containing all the Belgian sites that are included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
This year three Belgian sites were selected from the list, which shall receive enhanced protection. In Brussels the DMS has suggested focussing on the Horta Museum. The Committee shall study these cases in December.
Granting enhanced protection ensures the site’s immunity in case of an armed conflict. The cultural property which falls under this enhanced protection consequently may not be attacked or used for military purposes. Three criteria need to be fulfilled for a site to be eligible for enhanced protection: the State’s commitment not to use the site for military purposes, being of paramount importance to humanity and be protected by adequate internal, legal and administrative measures which guarantee the site’s cultural and historical value as well as the highest level of protection.
Belgian diplomatic missions
At the international level the Belgian Presidency conducted several diplomatic missions, at times in difficult conditions, such as in Mali, for example. The country desperately needs UNESCO’s support for its world heritage sites and for collections which are vandalised and destroyed. Special grants were allocated in order to bring works from the national museums to the capital Bamako.
In the framework of their mandate on the Committee the Belgian heritage experts launched a debate on synergies between the 1954 Convention and UNESCO’s other cultural conventions in order to simplify the submission and monitoring processes in these treaties. Important progress has already been made in this frame.
In order to ensure the success of the Committee’s activities it encouraged the States Parties to make voluntary financial contributions. A first regional contribution, which was combined with the contribution of the other relevant departments, helped provide support for the activities of the Permanent Secretariat of the Convention, to sponsor the International Committee on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) to conduct a study on the selection criteria for sites that are of the utmost importance to humanity and to organise an international conference in Brussels by the end of the year, on 12 and 13 December. This event will mark the end of the Presidency this year.