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Cultural property: Respect for people's dignity includes respect for their culture

13-02-2004 News Release 04/11

Geneva/Cairo (ICRC) – "Recent events have shown how important it is to ensure the protection of cultural property in situations of armed conflict." This was the message conveyed today by Jacques Forster, vice-president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), at a seminar that the organization is hosting in Cairo together with the Egyptian National Committee on International Humanitarian Law, the Egyptian Red Crescent Society and UNESCO.


CICR/réf. HR-D-00001-05H

Valpova, Croatia. Monument protected by UNESCO's distinctive sign for cultural property.


A number of other organizations have also lent their support.

Interreligious and interethnic conflicts, Mr Forster said, involve not only attacks on civilians, but also the destruction of civilian property, including cultural property. Such acts are meant to strike at the cultural identity and heritage of the adverse party.

This is the first in a series of seminars being held to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. It reflects the cooperation that has developed in recent years between UNESCO, which has a general mandate to protect cultural property, and the ICRC, whose mandate concerns the protection of cultural property in situations of armed conflict.

Cultural property protection is an important issue of international humanitarian law, Mr Forster argued, lying as it does “at the heart of other issues of humanitarian l aw that are being discussed today, in particular issues relating to prohibitions or restrictions on certain means and methods of warfare”. 

Rules protecting cultural property are well established in both treaty and customary law but more needs to be done in the area of risk preparedness and to ensure effective implementation, the vice-president said. The series of seminars being held to mark the anniversary is " an opportunity to reaffirm the relevance of existing rules and mechanisms, implement those mechanisms or find more effective means of ensuring respect for the rules. " However, as with humanitarian law in general, he emphasized, " it is primarily up to States and armed groups to respect and ensure respect for the law " .

The ICRC itself, he pointed out, has been very active in promoting the law, with help from the more than 60 national committees on international humanitarian law that have been set up in various parts of the world. He also mentioned the commitment of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in this area, expressed in a resolution on cultural property adopted at its 2001 Council of Delegates.

The 50th anniversary is an ideal opportunity for all the components of the Movement, but also for governments and other organizations, to make progress in protecting cultural property, Mr Forster concluded. " To respect each other means to respect each other's culture. We must convince the general public that the protection of cultural property is not an issue of secondary importance and that the rules that have been adopted in this area are part and parcel of the basic rules by which all peace-loving people must abide. "

See opening address The International Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict  

 For further information, please contact:  

 Ian Piper, ICRC Geneva, tel.: ++4122 730 2063 or ++4179 203 43 38