Protecting cultural property in armed conflict

Professor Peter Stone, Heritage Studies, Newcastle University

Professor Stone’s research explores what we consider acceptable and, crucially, what we consider unacceptable, in relation to the protection of cultural property during armed conflicts. Working within the ethical context of jus in bello (the morality of what is done in war), he has developed his research findings into a concrete set of recommendations on the future protection of cultural property which are informing national and international cultural policies, and influencing how defence forces treat cultural property they encounter in conflict zones.

The research

In 2008, Professor Stone published The Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Iraq, featuring contributions by Americans, Europeans and Iraqis who were heavily involved in the protection of cultural property in Iraq before, during, and after the 2003 invasion. In it, he outlined his own work as archaeological advisor to the UK Ministry of Defence and identified a series of 18 points for future action. Destruction was part diary of events, part identification and analysis of issues, and part draft strategy for future cooperation between cultural heritage experts and the military. The research considered what went wrong in Iraq, and what the relationship between cultural heritage experts and the military (in particular) could be. It highlighted as a major issue the failure of the UK to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.

Professor Stone’s research has since broadened to investigate the wider relationship between cultural property protection and human rights and the development of a four-tier approach to cultural property protection and co-operation: long term; immediate pre-deployment; during conflict; post conflict. This framework is intended to influence military doctrine and practice and the development of a proactive and effective response from the cultural heritage community.

Policy impact and engagement

Destruction has had significant influence both on public awareness of the destruction of cultural property in armed conflicts, and on defence, foreign policy, and cultural policymakers around the world. It was awarded the Archaeological Institute of America’s (AIA) 2011 James R Wiseman award, was featured in national and international mainstream press, and formed the basis for a public touring exhibition. The UK National Commission for UNESCO (UKNC) requested a copy of the hardback edition of Destruction, and with the British Institute for the Study of Iraq, it part-funded the paperback edition in order that it be available to the widest possible audience.

A copy was requested by the Parliamentary Select Committee scrutinising the Draft Cultural Property (Armed Conflict) Bill in 2008, who noted the value of the book in providing an informed context for their deliberations in the committee report. In 2009 the UKNC asked Professor Stone to draft written evidence to be submitted to the Iraq (Chilcot) Inquiry. This evidence was submitted, with a copy of Destruction, under the signature of 13 cultural heritage organisations to the Inquiry in February 2010. In 2012 Professor Stone wrote a brief for UKNC on ‘The value to the UK of ratifying the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two Protocols of 1954 and 1999’. He has since worked with MPs, ministers, and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on getting Parliament to consider legislation enabling the UK to ratify the Hague Convention.

The publication of Destruction has led to invitations to speak at a number of military symposia dealing with cultural property protection including at the annual US Department of Defence conference, the UK, Norwegian, German and Netherlands’ ministries of Defence, and NATO. Impact has been incremental as Professor Stone has gained the trust of the military through these events. He was asked submit a report and recommendations to the Netherlands MoD as a result of meeting military personnel at earlier meetings, and following meetings at NATO’s Civilian-Military Centre of Excellence (CCOE) was asked to work on the development of a training module for middle-ranking officers on cultural property protection for NATO, for which a draft syllabus has now been developed. Through this relationship-building his research has been able to influence military activity at an operational level: cultural property protection lists produced by the Blue Shield and passed on by Professor Stone to the CCOE were used by NATO forces to protect sites from air strikes during the 2011 Libya conflict.

More recently he has also been asked to prepare and deliver cultural property protection training sessions and materials for the Lebanese Army, the Economic Community of West African States, and the United Nations Interim force in Lebanon.

Professor Stone’s work has profoundly impacted national and international military and cultural policy, and in recognition of this, he has recently been invited to take up the first ever UNESCO Chair in Cultural Property Protection and Peace which will allow him to continue working with governments, the armed forces, the heritage sector and the public to foster a better understanding of the value of cultural property.