Cultural Heritage Information

Cultural Heritage Information, the Military, and the 1954 Hague Convention

Purpose:  To discuss strategies for gathering information on cultural property sites in areas of potential conflict or disaster and providing that information with probable military actors so they may act in accordance with the 1954 Hague Convention. 

 Chair:  Corine Wegener, President of the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield (USCBS) cwegener@uscbs.org

 Participants:  The roundtable had approximately 20 participants, but the main speakers were:  

Paul Green, U.S. Air Force, Air Combat Command
Katharyn Hanson, University of Chicago (recorder for roundtable)
Dick Jackson, Special Assistant to the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General for Law of War Matters
Thimothy Melancon, U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency
Jaime Pursuit, CyArk
LTC David Selnick, U.S. Air Force, Kings College London

Overview 

Corine Wegener began with a case study of the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield’s “No Strike List” for Libya in March 2011, having many of those who participated present at the discussion.  The list was compiled in early March and shared with contacts at the U.S. Department of Defense and its NATO allies just prior to the initial NATO bombing campaign which commenced on 19 March 2011.

The U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield began collecting information about 10 March 2011, initially using contacts of Blue Shield board members Patty Gerstenblith and Nancy Wilkie, both also AIA members. Info gathering spread to Susan Kane and Sam Carrier from Oberlin College, and eventually included many other archaeologists from which we obtained coordinates of important archaeological sites in Syria.  USCBS also gathered information from various International Committee of the Blue Shield for information on museums, libraries, archives and other sites.  

Wegener sent the first draft list to Mr. Dick Jackson, Special Assistant to the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General for Law of War Matters and to Mr. Paul Green, Air Combat Command. Wegener shared the list with colleagues at Blue Shield Netherlands, Blue Shield United Kingdom, and Blue Shield France, and members of the Association of National Committees of the Blue Shield board, who subsequently shared it with their respective military contacts. 

Jackson and Green then described how they shared the information on Libya through their chains of command.  Thimothy Melancon confirmed that this data was then received by the Defense Intelligence Agency for input into their targeting systems, which is updated every 24 hours and shared with all U.S. Combatant Commands. We learned that this is ultimately where data for No Strike Lists resides for U.S. military operations and is shared with NATO and other forces working with the U.S.

Wegener then recounted how Karl Habsburg, Blue Shield Austria and President of the Association of National Committees of the Blue Shield, along with Joris Kila of IMCurWG, visited Libya in September and November 2011 to assess damage to Libyan cultural sites. They noted no significant damage from NATO bombing. The No Strike List appears to have been successful at gathering the right information and communicating it to the U.S. military and NATO.  As a result, cultural property and sites were spared damage and the NATO forces involved in establishing and maintaining the No Fly Zone remained in compliance with the requirements of the 1954 Hague Convention. 

With the case study of the Libya No Strike List as an example of successful collaboration between various cultural property organizations such as AIA, NGOs such as Blue Shield, ICOM, ICOMOS, academia, and the military, the group addressed the question of how to coordinate even better in the future.  

General Points: 

  • Cultural of site coordinate lists ideally come from the countries themselves.  States Parties to the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict are encouraged to deposit a list of their most important cultural heritage to UNESCO, but in practice few actually do this.  (Wegener noted the U.S. also has not taken up the task of compiling such a list since ratifying the 1954 Hague Convention in 2009.)
  • In such cases, the task of compiling a list the military can use to avoid damage to sites falls to the cultural heritage community, ideally in consultation with cultural heritage colleagues inside the country in question, or if that is not possible, with expatriate colleagues and others who have expertise in the country in question.
  • This information must include not only archaeological sites and museums, but scientific collections, historic buildings, archives, libraries, etc.  This requires cross-disciplinary collaboration on both the national and international level.
  • While the Libya case is a good model, it was very much ad hoc in its execution and dependent on personal relationships. 

Recommendations: 

  • In accordance with the guidelines of the 1954 Hague Convention, all nations which are States Parties should, during peacetime, do a risk assessment and work on domestic emergency preparations in case of armed conflict or even natural disasters on their home soil.  Lists of important cultural site coordinates may be deposited with UNESCO.  
  • In the absence of such lists cultural NGOs (eg. the Blue Shield, AIA, ICOM, etc.) can be very effective in producing such lists in cross-disciplinary coordination with international and domestic colleagues.
  • Such lists must be produced in advance of armed conflict when possible, with a special priority for those nations that are experiencing political instability or repeated armed conflicts as well as those countries prone to natural disasters such as tsunami, earthquake, and hurricanes. 
  • Such lists can be shared with military personnel in those countries most likely to be involved in a conflict and needing to comply with the 1954 Hague Convention, or those likely to provide a disaster response and humanitarian assistance.
  • Military participants noted the importance of prioritizing, both to avoid an overwhelming number of site coordinates and to give the military a sense of priorities in case of the need to make a decision on military necessity grounds.

CyArk

After break, Jaime Pursuit of CyArk gave a brief presentation on her organization. CyArk is a 501c3 nonprofit organization with the mission of digitally preserving cultural heritage sites through collecting, archiving and providing open access to data created by laser scanning, digital modeling, and other state-of-the-art technologies. Jaime noted that CyArk’s amazingly detailed digital records can provide additional information on sites, not only for No Strike Lists such as those under discussion, but also could aid conservators working to restore a site in case of damage after an armed conflict or natural disaster. For more information see their website at www.cyark.org