An open letter to the Rt Hon. John Whittingdale MP, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport
Dear Mr Whittingdale,
Ref: Ratification of the 1954 Hague Convention and the UK Cultural Property Fund (download here)
As representatives of some of the UK’s leading cultural heritage organisations we, the undersigned, were delighted when last June the Government publicly announced its decision to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its associated protocols. This legislation will give enormous support to the Armed Forces’ ambitions to support local communities in the areas in which it is militarily engaged.
We are also hugely supportive of the Government’s intention to create a Cultural Property Fund, as announced in the same press release. In particular we endorse the proposal that has already been put to you by Peter Stone, UNESCO Professor of Culture Property Protection and Peace at Newcastle University, Chair of the UK Committee of the Blue Shield and cultural property advisor to the UK Government during the Iraq War of 2003. He recommends that the Fund be concentrated on five areas of activity, namely:
We thank you again for all your efforts to make the UK a leader in international Cultural Property Protection and look forward to concrete news soon of the parliamentary schedule for ratification, and of the budget and remit of the Cultural Property Fund. We would be happy to be of assistance in any way we can.
Professor Eleanor Robson
Chair of Council
British Institute for the Study of Iraq
Dr Mike Heyworth, MBE
Council for British Archaeology
Mr Peter Hinton
Chartered Institute for Archaeologists
Ms Sharon Heal
Ms Kate Pugh, OBE
The Heritage Alliance
The Art Loss Register
Dr Neil Brodie
Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research
University of Glasgow
Professor Sir Barry Cunliffe
Emeritus Professor of European Archaeology
University of Oxford
Mr Philip Deans
Doctoral Research Student
School of Arts and Cultures
Dr Paul Fox
University of York
Dr Nigel Pollard
Associate Professor of Ancient History
Mr Robert Bevan
Architecture Critic of The Evening Standard
Dr Bijan Rouhani
ICOMOS Working Group on Syria and Iraq
Mr Peter A. Clayton
Member of the Treasure Valuation Committee
The British Museum
Dr Robert Bewley
Endangered Archaeology of the Middle East and North Africa Project
University of Oxford
Professor Graham Philip
Department of Archaeology
Newcastle University has been invited by UNESCO to join its prestigious universities network and establish the first ever UNESCO Chair in Cultural Property Protection and Peace.
New worldwide partnerships
Through the accolade – awarded by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) with the full support of the UK National Commission for UNESCO – Newcastle University will deliver training and capacity building activities and build new partnerships worldwide to mitigate the destruction of cultural property during conflict and strengthen the use of UNESCO World Heritage Sites as tools for peace.
“In any conflict, there are not just the human casualties but also casualties in terms of the cultural property and heritage of a society. The destruction of cultural property, and associated trade in illicit antiquities, strikes at the identity, cohesion, well-being, and economic potential of affected communities and undermines opportunities for intercultural dialogue. It robs the world of its past.
“Through the UNESCO Chair, Newcastle University will work with governments, the armed forces, the heritage sector and the public to foster a better understanding of the value of cultural property.
“I’m extremely grateful for the support of the UK National Commission for UNESCO in establishing this Chair. There is an almost unprecedented urgency to mitigate the destruction of cultural property, and we hope this Chair will make a significant contribution to what is becoming a defining issue for the current generation.”
Developing a global culture of peace
Professor Stone will work with the military to build on the implementation of new policies and training which have, since 2003, already encouraged many armed forces to take the protection of cultural property during conflict seriously as part of their duties while on the ground in conflict situations. He will also work with colleagues at UNESCO World Heritage sites worldwide to investigate the potential use of drawing upon these sites to develop a global culture of peace and collective responsibility for the protection of these historic sites, which belong to all peoples of the world.
The objectives of Newcastle’s UNESCO Chair connect closely with the current focus of the UN’s heritage body which earlier this year launched, UNITE4HERITAGE. This campaign is looking to harness its global standards and legal mechanisms – like the World Heritage Convention – to coordinate the work of armed forces, Interpol, the World Customs Organization, museums, leading auction houses and national governments, to block the black market trade in cultural artefacts in order to protect cultural sites. UNESCO works around the world to harness the power of culture to reconcile people and bring them together.
Strengthening our shared heritage
The UK National Commission for UNESCO, which is a hub between UNESCO, UK government and UK Civil Society, supported Professor Stone through the application process. The UK National Commission for UNESCO’s Culture Director, Helen Maclagan said of the announcement:
“I am delighted that Newcastle University will join the prestigious UK and global network of UNESCO Chairs – eminent research institutions that, within their different fields and academic focus, are all working towards achieving UNESCO’s overall goal of building peace and sustainable development in the minds of men and women.
“Our hope is that, as a member of the dynamic global universities network, and working under the powerful UNESCO brand, Professor Stone’s critical work in the protection of our shared, World Heritage will be enhanced and strengthened”.
Culture Minister, Ed Vaizey said:
“The protection of cultural property during conflict is of huge importance and I welcome Professor Stone and Newcastle University to the role of the first UNESCO Chair to protect cultural heritage at risk of destruction.
“While the UK’s priority will continue to be the human cost of these horrific conflicts, I am in no doubt that the UK must also do what we can to prevent any further cultural destruction. The loss of a country’s heritage threatens its very identity. The knowledge and expertise of the experts in our cultural institutions makes us uniquely qualified to help. I believe that the UK therefore has a vital responsibility to support cultural protection overseas and recent events have confirmed the urgency of this.”
Professor Chris Brink, Vice-Chancellor of Newcastle University added:
“This prestigious honour recognises the world-leading expertise we have at Newcastle University in cultural property protection. Professor Stone’s work over the last decade has had a major impact in encouraging the military, governments and other policy makers to take cultural property protection more seriously. With the benefit of his knowledge and expert guidance, this UNESCO Chair will play a critical role in protecting the world’s cultural heritage for future generations.”