High-Level Conference on the 20th anniversary of the 1999 Second Protocol to the 1954 Hague Convention


To commemorate the 20 years anniversary of the 1999 Second Protocol to the 1954 Hague Convention, UNESCO, with the support of the Government of Switzerland, organized a high-level conference on in Geneva, Switzerland.

The Conference convened States representatives, experts and other stakeholders to share and deliberate on the achievements and challenges facing the implementation of the Second Protocol, which forms a critical instrument of the Laws of Armed Conflict. The program can be down loaded here

CHAC researcher Joanne McCafferty and CHAC Director Frederik Rosén attended the conference.


Read CHAC’s contribution to the International Conference on the 20th anniversary of the 1999 Second Protocol to the 1954 Hague Convention, Geneva, April 2019:

“Dear Ambassadors, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am honored to address you here today at this important conference and provide you with a perspective from the Nordic Center for Cultural Heritage and Armed Conflict (CHAC). We are a small organization with a big footprint. We work with stakeholders in defense and security sectors as well as UNESCO and other international organizations, with the aim of providing research-based support for building policy, doctrine and capacity to accommodate the aims and ambitions of the 1954 Hague regime. We have been running a most influential international initiative in regard to developing military approaches to cultural heritage in war and conflict, an example being the NATO Science for Peace and Security project on Cultural Property Protection in NATO-led Military Operations (2014—2017).

During my work, I often encounter defense and security professionals who assume that, with the exception of military targeting, cultural heritage is an irrelevant topic for defense organizations, because this matter is “taken care of” by UNESCO. Nevertheless, as we all know, despite the great work carried out by UNESCO, its Member States never provided UNESCO with the necessary tools and resources to work practically on the ground in order to protect cultural heritage during armed conflicts. I see the same lack of capacity in other key international organizations. In 2018, the European Union’s External Action Service started to build an approach to integrate the cultural dimension within the EU's overall security policy. United Nations Member States strongly believe that the task of cultural heritage protection should not be added to the already overburdened UN peacekeeping operations. Additionally, while NATO's recent work to build a military approach to cultural heritage protection holds many promises, I, as a partner to that process, can say that it is still in the early stages of development.

Moreover, it is not too much to say that domestic initiatives in the defense and security sectors mostly struggle to mobilize resources, define their roles in their institutional contexts, and achieve formal recognition.

Therefore, there is a paradox; on the one hand, we experience a significant and developing role of cultural heritage in war and conflict, and a growing agreement across the international community that we urgently need better protection mechanisms in place. On the other hand, after 65 years with the 1954 Hague Convention and 20 years with its Second Protocol, when it comes to handling the problems and the conventions, a striking institutional gap endures at both the domestic and the international level.

My question is: why do states remain so reluctant when it comes to investing in the most basic mechanisms and human resources to implement the 1954 Hague regime? Why do they shy away?

From my experience engaging with the cultural heritage protection agenda in the defense and security sectors, I see three major roadblocks.

Firstly, we have strong norms and a comprehensive legal framework, but we lack a clear picture of the actual implications to society that the loss of cultural heritage brings. For instance, the concept of “cultural cleansing”, with its idea that cultures may be destroyed by demolishing their material expressions, appears intuitively correct and historical examples come to mind. Yet, no systematic empirical research exists to substantiate such a causal effect. Regardless of what we feel is right or true, we are left with anecdotal evidence.

In the same way, regardless of its clearly destructive impact on heritage, we lack accurate knowledge of the actual effects of looting and illicit trafficking of heritage objects on international security, including the financing of terrorism.

Now, this lack of substantiated knowledge makes it difficult for states and international organizations to set priorities. Because who wants to take the lead and use already scarce resources or taxpayer’s money to develop a new thematic area without firm facts underpinning the aims and ambitions?

Another difficulty we face is that, apart from international law, the academic discussions on cultural heritage and conflict primarily take place within the humanities. The predominance of humanities researchers with weak knowledge of the inner workings, logics and language of defense and security sectors has the effect that recommendations tend to be impractical to stakeholders.

On the other side, I see how defense and security studies holds on to a tradition of viewing culture as something immaterial and purely social. They study religion, nationalism, identity-politics, belief systems and friends and enemy formations as discourse and social constructions. This hinders the development of a defense and security studies research agenda on this material dimension of culture that we call cultural heritage. This is ironic, not least as terrorist attacks from the World Trade Center in 2001 to Sri Lanka and New Zealand in 2019 tend to target places of cultural, historical or religious significance, viz. cultural heritage.

Thirdly, there is a definite confusion among states in determining the relevant authority for implementing the 1954 Hague regime. At the domestic level, the topic continues to fall between the chairs of the ministries of defense, culture, and justice. The 1954 Convention and its protocols are habitually put under the umbrella of “culture conventions” and are often managed by the national ministries or departments of culture, despite forming an integral part of the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC), and as such should instead belong to the ministries or departments of defense.

The misperception is generic also on the international level. At the first conference ever in NATO Headquarters on cultural heritage protection, held in April 2019, one of our key panelists started with saying that “it’s a bit odd to come to NATO to discuss cultural property”. Why does it feel odd to come to NATO to discuss a key instrument of international humanitarian law? Is NATO not exactly the place where these discussions are supposed to take place? Unfortunately, his comment expresses the confusion about the 1954 Hague regime -- the world in a grain of sand.

In conclusion, without better facts to underpin our agenda, without adequate expertise directly applicable to defense and security sectors, and without a clarification of responsibility across relevant authorities, I fear that the Second Protocol, alongside the 1954 Hague Convention will continue to live a troubled life, not really military, not really culture.

That said, the glass is definitely half-full. The growing political commitment and many initiatives we see today indicate a fertile ground for pushing forward the international work supporting the Second Protocol and the 1954 Hague Convention. At CHAC, we look forward to continuing our support for this movement.

Thank you.”

CHAC Presenting in Geneva.

CHAC Presenting in Geneva.