Azerbaijan was elected as a member of the UNESCO Cultural Heritage Committee in the event of an armed conflict
At the 16th meeting of the Member States of the UNESCO Committee for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of an Armed Conflict (hereinafter: the Committee), held on December 2-3, 2021, Azerbaijan was elected a member of the Committee for 4 years. The UNESCO Committee established in 2005 on the basis of the 27th article of the Second Protocol to The Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of an Armed Conflict of 1954, signed in 1999. Its main task is to encourage and monitor the implementation of the provisions of the Second Protocol to the Convention by the States parties.
The Committee is composed of representatives of 12 member States of the 1999 Second Protocol. According to the records of the meeting of the UNESCO Committee for the Protection of Cultural Property, the members of the Committee for the period 2021-2025 are Azerbaijan, Finland, Japan, Ukraine, Qatar, El Salvador. It should be reminded that the Committee organizes a meeting once a year, and in special cases, it calls an extraordinary general meeting. The members of the Committee are elected for 4 years and can be re-elected only once - at the meetings of the parties to the 1999 Second Protocol.
A state can become a party to the 1999 Second Protocol of The Hague Convention only if it adopted the 1954 Convention and, accordingly, its membership is directly related to the fact of ratification of the Convention and the protocols. It should be noted that both Armenia and Azerbaijan are members of this Protocol.
According to the report of the Committee for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, provided by the official website of UNESCO on November 2, 2020, among the 84 member states of the Second Protocol of The Hague Convention, Azerbaijan isn’t participating in the Committee for the first time. In 2011-2019 Azerbaijan (actually from 2011 to 2015, then it was re-elected for the period 2015-2019) was also a member of the Committee. In accordance with Article 27 of the 1999 Second Protocol, the Committee performs the following functions:
- To develop guidelines for the implementation of the 1999 Second Protocol;
- To grant, suspend or cancel enhanced protection of cultural property and to establish, maintain and promote the List of Cultural Property under Enhanced Protection;
- To monitor and supervise the implementation of this Protocol and promote the identification of cultural property under enhanced protection;
- To consider and comment on reports of the Parties, to seek clarifications as required, and prepare its own report on the implementation of this Protocol for the Meeting of the Parties;
- To receive and consider requests from states for international assistance;
- To determine the use of the Fund for the protection of cultural property in the event of an armed conflict, etc.
It should be noted that in 2013 Armenia became a member of the Committee, and in 2017 it was re-elected for the period 2017-2021.
In order to understand the importance of the 1999 Second Protocol of The Hague Convention, the monitoring and supervision of the implementation of which is laid on the Committee, we consider it necessary to explain why it was established and what global changes it proposed in the field of international protection of cultural property during the war.
In the 20th century, in response to the widespread destruction of cultural property during the two World wars and ethnic clashes after those, it was decided to take cultural property under urgent protection, because the failure of the implementation of the provisions of the 1954 Convention began to worry the world community. And in response to the results of large-scale destructions of cultural property, the Second Protocol to The Hague Convention was signed in 1999. In 1991, the Government of the Netherlands decided to include a review of the 1954 Convention as part of its contribution to the United Nations Decade of International Law.
As a result of many intergovernmental negotiations and a number of congresses based on comments from states and relevant organizations, the UNESCO Secretariat and the Government of the Netherlands presented the final draft of the Second Protocol, and on March 26, 1999, it was adopted without a vote. The draft was opened for signatures in The Hague on May 17, 1999, and on March 9, 2004, it came into force. It is important to note that the Protocol supplements and does not change in any way the 1954 Convention.
Thus, the Committee:
- strengthened the system of implementation of the 1954 Convention;
- included provisions related to non-international armed conflict (this refers to ethnic conflicts that may arise in the territory of the same state, and during this period cultural values must also be protected);
- included separate provisions for the protection of cultural property in the occupied territories;
- clarified the definition of "military necessity". According to the 1954 Convention, Parties undertake to respect cultural property situatedwithin their own territory as well as within the territory of others, refraining from any act of hostility, except in cases arising from "military necessity". The 1999 Second Protocol explains it this way: "A military objective" means an object which by its nature, location, purpose, or use makes an effective contribution to military action and whose total or partial destruction, capture or neutralization, in the circumstances ruling at the time, offers a definite military advantage. The military advantage should be “in the current circumstances.” In other cases, attacks on cultural property are illegal and subject to criminal liability.
- Established a system of punishment (a system of criminal liability was created in the event of harm to cultural property);
- included a system for the implementation of the Convention;
- created a new system of "enhanced protection", which is of the greatest importance for humanity (drew up the simplified and changed the procedure for granting special protection;
- proposed to take precautionary measures when attacking cultural property (the attacker undertakes to apply precautions when choosing the target of the attack so that the objects to be attacked are not cultural property, then refrain from the attack if they are and the result will cause their destruction (or even accidental damage that could be caused by an attack), the loss of which is of greater importance than the expected military advantage (Second Protocol, Article 7).
The Protocol fostered the realization that an attack on cultural property is an international crime, and created a new framework for the implementation of protection by means of prevention, improved the institutional mechanisms for its implementation, demanded the establishment of authorized bodies responsible for the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict. This body is precisely the Committee. The destruction of cultural heritage was also investigated by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and was included in 1998 in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court as a war crime.
The advisers to the Committee for the Protection of Cultural Property during Armed Conflict are: the International Blue Shield Committee, the National Committee of the International Council for the Conservation of Monuments and Landmarks (ICOMOS), the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), the International Research Center for Conservation and restoration of cultural property (headquarters in Rome), International Committee of the Red Cross, World Customs Organization (WCO), International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), International Criminal Court, International Council of Museums (ICOM), United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime ( UNODC) and other organizations.
UNESCO, as an internationally accepted leading organization for the protection of cultural property in the event of war, demonstrates yet another clear contradiction between its principles and reality. The election of Azerbaijan as a member for a four-year term to the Committee for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and appointed as responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Second Protocol for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, adopted by UNESCO in 1999, in this case, has many contradictions.
Undoubtedly, even after the adoption of the Second Protocol in 1992, Azerbaijan is one of the rare states that violated the provisions of this Protocol more than anyone else. As mentioned above, the Protocol was adopted in order to assess the significance of the cultural property in the event of armed conflicts. Criminal liability was established for violations both at the personal and state levels, which were related to the threat of harm or destruction of cultural property in the occupied territories in order to prevent the possibility of turning a cultural object into a target, in order to prevent the destruction of historical evidence, vandalism, robbery and any act of hostility. However, contrary to reality, Azerbaijan, instead of being held accountable for its violations, becomes an authorized representative for the implementation of the Convention.
In 1999, the Second Protocol was adopted in order to prevent the shelling of the Ghazanchetsots church during the war, the destruction of churches, khachkars, memorials dedicated to the victims of the Genocide and Artsakh liberation war, the loss of modern values, the appropriation of Armenian churches and their proclamation as Albanian and Udi, etc. However, as we can see, Azerbaijan not only did not fulfill the provisions of the 1999 Second Protocol but also did not warn about the attack on the Ghazanchetsots church, damaged cultural sites without taking into account the principle of military necessity, falsified and concealed the history of Armenian identity, built new roads in old Armenian cemeteries, violated the religious functions of Christian organizations and at the same time became an international "defender" of these provisions.