Protection of Cultural Property in Times of Armed Conflict



Ambassador Martin Dahinden, Ambassador of Switzerland to the United States of America 

On the Occasion of the Geneva Call Report Launch and Panel Discussion at The Embassy of Switzerland,  Washington, D.C.


Speaker: Ambassador Martin Dahinden

Ambassador Martin Dahinden during his opening remarks
Ambassador Martin Dahinden during his opening remarks © Embassy of Switzerland in the United States


distinguished panelists,

ladies and gentlemen, 

It is an honor and a pleasure for me to welcome you all to today’s report launch and panel discussion. 

Let me start by congratulating Geneva Call on their report, which sheds light on an important challenge: "Culture under Fire: Armed Non-State Actors and Cultural Heritage in Wartime." 

In the next few minutes, I would like to concentrate my remarks on Switzerland’s views and actions on the issue and the reasons why we support initiatives on this topic. 

Among the many horrors of war the destruction of cultural property is often perceived as the lesser evil. But its consequences are no less harmful. It is not about the objects but about what they represent. The aim is to erase the culture and history of communities, to destroy their social fabric and identity. Cultural heritage is a symbol of our humanity, of human genius. Its loss concerns all of us. Consequently, the destruction of cultural property makes the process of peacebuilding and reconciliation after armed conflict even more difficult. 

During armed conflict, cultural property is protected in two ways: on the one hand, being civilian in nature, the general provisions of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) protect civilian property; on the other hand, it is specifically protected under the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. 

Under the Hague Convention and its two Protocols, states must act to safeguard their own cultural property against armed attack. That can be done, for example, by moving such property away from potential or actual military action or, in the case of historical sites, by avoiding placing military objectives near them. Parties to the Hague Convention are responsible for implementing its provisions and for enshrining the protection of cultural property in their national legislation. In 2014, Switzerland enacted the Federal Act on the Protection of Cultural Property during Armed Conflicts, Disasters and Emergencies, which allows Switzerland to provide a safe haven for the movable cultural assets of other states. 

Currently, we are finalizing Switzerland’s Strategy in Matters of the Protection of Cultural Property. The strategy aims at consolidating the image of Switzerland as an engaged and transparent partner in matters of the protection of endangered cultural heritage, in combating trafficking in illicit cultural goods, and the financing of terrorism. It also promotes the application of international humanitarian law. 

Next year, we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Hague Convention’s Second Protocol. Two priorities deserve all our efforts: first, to increase the number of States Parties, currently there are only 82; second, to make sure that the so-called system of enhanced protection is effective. In March 2019, Switzerland, together with UNESCO, will organize a conference with those goals. 

As an observer—for the time being, Switzerland is also involved in the Committee for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. Established by the Second Protocol, the Committee furthers the Protocol’s implementation. 

Switzerland also welcomes the key role of the United Nations in the protection of endangered cultural heritage. Security Council Resolution 2347 (2017) is a crucial step in the right direction and stresses the need for action to protect the world’s cultural heritage. Founded in Geneva, the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas aims to do exactly that. It supports the implementation of prevention programs and rehabilitation efforts. 

Because we understand how cultural heritage and property are intertwined with identity, history and humanity, any attack on our cultural heritage and property is an attack on our identity, our history, and our humanity. 

We applaud the work of Geneva Call, the ICRC, the Smithsonian Institution, and numerous other organizations working on a global scale to raise such awareness. 

Today’s event is another important step in that series of exchanges. I look forward to a lively discussion.


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