UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights Karima Bennoune has stressed that the protection of cultural heritage is not a luxury item.
She was addressing an open discussion at the University of Cyprus entitled “using international law to defend the right of everyone to take part to cultural life.”
At the centre of the legal regime one finds the Hague Convention and the two protocols Bennoune said pointing out that unfortunately, despite their importance we haven’t seen full ratification.
“We haven’t seen all states taking on these obligations and this problem is especially serious with the 2nd protocol which only has 68 parties”, she said.
At the same time she noted that that’s not the only difficulty, adding that even when they have undertaken these obligations they have not always implemented them.
“For example I was dismayed to learn from cultural heritage professionals that there have reportedly not been any prosecutions at the national level on the basis of the 1954 Convention even-though as we know unfortunately there have been many acts of destruction”, she said.
The UN Special Rapporteur expressed the point of view that we have to get more states to embrace the legal framework and to implement it.
“My contribution is to try to develop a human rights approach to cultural heritage,” she explained.
She also spoke of the need for accountability and of the first case in the International Criminal Court in the Hague for the destruction of cultural heritage. She further highlighted the need to safeguard activists who stand up to protect cultural heritage from being destroyed.
Bennoune stressed the necessity of allocating sufficient budgetary resources pointing out that “the protection of cultural heritage is not a luxury item.”
On his part Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Alexandros Zenon praised Bennoune, noting that she had an active role in supporting the initiative to promote a cross regional statement on the destruction of cultural heritage at the Human Rights Council of the UN in Geneva.
“Her participation in the panel discussion organised to present the initiative was instrumental in gaining further support and visibility for the statement which was adopted with the votes of 146 countries”, he said noting that the statement had been an initiative by Cyprus and a number of other countries.
Referring to the Hague Convention and its 2nd Protocol he said he was personally involved in drafting the latter, expressing his disappointment that only a limited number of ratifications have taken place. One can rightly claim that the detrimental impact on human rights by the destruction of cultural heritage has largely been overlooked, he said.
On his part University of Cyprus Rector Constantinos Christofides said that the matter of cultural heritage is largely overlooked because it is not considered to be a matter of utmost importance, but pointed out that it is much more important than we would like to believe.
In an era where international cultural heritage monuments are under threat of destruction, like the ancient city of Palmyra, it is important to discuss the value and protection of culture.
He posed the question, who are we without our cultural identity? How do we connect as a people and as a nation throughout our history? Why do we keep our traditions and how do we see people with different traditions than our own?
Could we coexist in modern societies without learning to respect and accept the cultural identity of our fellow human beings?