UNESCO’s Ricardo de Guimarães Pinto keynote speech at William & Mary Law School’s Cultural Heritage Symposium

Statement by Ricardo de Guimarães Pinto,
UNESCO Office in NY
on the occasion of
Presented by the Art and Cultural Heritage Law Society
& the Center for Comparative Legal Studies and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding
Williamsburg, Virginia, 19 October 2018

Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, it is really a great honor for me to be with you today at William & Mary Law School. As we all know, William & Mary was the first law school in the United States and was the brainchild of President Thomas Jefferson. Given your rich history, I particularly appreciate your commitment to UNESCO’s cultural work: to protect the heritage of humanity so that each of us – regardless of age, gender, nationality or income – can enjoy, benefit and learn from the legacy of the past.

Cultural heritage is about more than buildings or sites, as we have heard already in the first panel discussion. It is about the values and meanings that communities attach to these places, the spirit of inclusion and belonging that people feel when they visit them. Heritage reminds us that despite our many differences, we are all linked by the web of history. We all belong to the same human family.

Today, I believe this mission has never been so important, because these precise values are coming under attack in the contexts of conflicts across the globe. The nature of conflict is changing. We have seen the rise of violent extremism, with attacks on cultures and identities placed on the frontlines of new wars. We have seen the systematic violation of human rights, the persecution of people on cultural and religious grounds. We have seen the intentional destruction of the past, with cultural landmarks destroyed in Palmyra and Aleppo in Syria, as well as in Mosul and Basra in Iraq.

Addressing these threats and building peace is a long-term challenge – we need to build its foundations by countering narratives of violence and by promoting respect for cultural diversity, particularly among young people. UNESCO has placed this at the heart of its programmes in recent years.

However, legal and operational actions, such as the ones we have been talking about today, are key.

UNESCO is the guardian of a number of standard-setting instruments for the protection of cultural heritage, including in conflict situations. Conventions, which are subject to ratification, acceptance or accession, are legally binding for States Parties. Adopted at The Hague, Netherlands, in 1954 in the wake of massive destruction of cultural heritage during the Second World War, UNESCO’s ‘Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict’ is particularly vital in our efforts to safeguard cultural heritage in times of conflict.

The Hague Convention is the first international agreement focused exclusively on the protection of cultural heritage in the event of armed conflict. It covers everything from immovable property, such as monuments, to movable property, such as artifacts and books of historical or archaeological significance. It is based on two fundamental principles – the safeguarding of cultural property in peacetime and the respect of cultural property in the event of armed conflict, including under occupation. The Convention provides for administrative, military, penal, and technical measures for the protection of cultural property. As of today, 133 States are party to the Hague Convention, including the United States.

As the destruction of cultural heritage has increasingly become part of contemporary conflicts, UNESCO has worked to integrate the protection of cultural heritage into peace-keeping and humanitarian responses. As a result, a number of landmark partnerships and policy decisions have been reached in the past few years, including the adoption of multiple UN Security Council Resolutions touching on cultural heritage protection. This is an area or work where I have personally been involved over these past five years. For example, Security Council Resolution 2199 on the financing of terrorism, which was adopted in 2015, bans trade of cultural property from Iraq and Syria. This was done in the wake of ISIL and the conflicts in the region. Security Council Resolution 2347, adopted in 2017, is the first UN Security Council Resolution to focus exclusively on the protection of culture, recognizing the crucial role of culture in the maintenance of international peace and security. Those familiar with the UN know that there is great difference between resolutions of the General Assembly, which are of course more universal, but don’t necessarily have the same ‘binding’ effect as Security Council resolutions do. Now of course, the Security Council really only deals with peace and security measures, and that is mainly why cultural issues had never been a part of the Council’s agenda – until now.

Moreover, and perhaps most prominently, in 2016 the International Criminal Court (ICC) ruled, for the first time, that intentionally destroying cultural property is a war crime. The ICC sentenced the individual responsible for the destruction of the mausoleums of Timbuktu in Mali to nine years in prison. This truly historic ruling further strengthens the Hague Convention’s Second Protocol of 1999, showing that the international community is no longer willing to tolerate serious crimes against cultural property.

The Second Protocol of the Hague Convention was adopted in 1999 and created a new category of enhanced protection for cultural heritage, including at the national level. It specifies the sanctions to be imposed for serious violations with respect to cultural property and defines the conditions in which individual criminal responsibility shall apply. The Second Protocol does not replace the Hague Convention; it complements it. In fact, the adoption of the Second Protocol has created two levels of protection: the basic level under the Hague Convention of 1954 for its 133 States Parties; and the higher level of protection under the Second Protocol of 1999 for its 82 States Parties. Unfortunately, neither Russia, Syria, or the United States ever ratified the Second Protocol.

Nevertheless, from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Cambodia and Afghanistan, UNESCO has for decades led the international community’s efforts to rehabilitate cultural heritage in the wake of conflicts. UNESCO worked to support the government of Mali in its efforts to safeguard its ancient manuscripts, 4,000 of which were burned between 2012 and 2013, when the country was suffering a great civil strife with rebels taking over the north. UNESCO also supported Mali’s efforts to reconstruct the 14 mausoleums of Timbuktu that were destroyed by extremists in 2012—the which we have just heard was ruled by the ICC as a war crime. This ensured the continuity of the city’s ancient traditions and restored a sense of community identity and pride to the population.

This past February, at the International Conference on the Reconstruction of Iraq, UNESCO launched its largest reconstruction effort in recent times – a ground-breaking initiative to “Revive the Spirit of Mosul”. With an estimated 90% of the Old City of Mosul having been destroyed, this initiative aims to place people at the heart of Mosul’s recovery, by reconstructing the city’s cultural and educational institutions. This effort has been bolstered by the generous support of the United Arab Emirates, who has provided over 50 million dollars for the reconstruction of the Al-Nouri Mosque and its leaning Al-Hadba Minaret, which stands 148 feet tall. UNESCO is also spearheading the restoration of the city’s markets, two churches, a Yazidi temple, and the central library at Mosul University.

As you can see, with so much strife in the world, from a humanitarian perspective there has never been a bigger number of refugees since World War II. In terms of cultural heritage destruction, we are seeing the same trend. Of course, throughout history we know this has always taken place, but certainly not at this scale, and not as a tactic of war. But at the same time, there is hope. We are seeing more funds being dedicated to the cause by private and public institutions, more projects are being done, and more awareness and interest from civil society. And from the legal perspective, it is encouraging to see these kinds of discussions taking place, particularly in a prestigious university such as William and Mary.

In conclusion, let me reiterate that the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict lies at the heart of UNESCO’s activities. Strong legal and operational mechanisms are absolutely essential to ensure the protection of cultural heritage from armed conflict. For the future legal professionals in the audience, I am energized by your commitment to these issues and hope this is an interest you will continue to explore throughout your careers.

Thank you very much.

Ricardo de Guimarães Pinto joined UNESCO at its Headquarters in Paris in 2006. At his current position of Liaison Officer at UNESCO’s Office in New York since 2011, he represents UNESCO and maintains its relations and cooperation with the United Nations Offices, agencies, funds and programmes as well as Member States located in New York.

He covers Security-Council-related issues, such as Crisis Preparedness and Response, Humanitarian Affairs, and Counter-Terrorism. Moreover, he works on substantive areas related to freedom of expression and press freedom, information and communication technology for development, as well as protection of cultural heritage. Ricardo represents UNESCO in inter-governmental and inter-agency meetings of the United Nations System, advocating on behalf of the Organization, expressing UNESCO’s strategic priorities, activities and mandates, aiming to strengthen the Organization’s visibility and presence within the UN system at UN Headquarters.

Prior to his current position in New York, Ricardo worked in the Office of the Director-General of UNESCO at its Headquarters in Paris for five years. He served in the external relations team of former Director-General Irina Bokova and was Special Assistant to the Spokesperson of former Director-General Koichiro Matsuura.

Ricardo holds a Masters degree in International Relations and Diplomacy and a Bachelors degree in Communication and Modern Languages. Other than his native Portuguese, he fluently speaks English, French, Spanish and Italian. He is Brazilian and is married with two young children.

Categories: Professionals in the Field
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