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Human Rights Day: The Importance of Cultural Heritage and Human Rights

December 10, 2019

Cultural Heritage Destruction During the Islamic State's Genocide Against the YazidisDecember 10th is Human Rights Day, which commemorates the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action,  adopted by the World Conference on Human Rights in 1993. This historic conference brought together 7,000 participants from 171 states. It recognized that “all human rights” are “universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated”— seeking to end the separation that had previously existed between civil and political rights on the one hand, and economic, social and cultural rights on the other. While valiant efforts have been made since, there is still much work that needs to be done to protect cultural heritage as a human right.

Background: Early Recognition that Culture is a Human Right 

With the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948, the world’s governments committed themselves and their citizens to progressive measures to recognize and secure “fundamental freedoms.”  Under Article 27, “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.” In 1966, the UN further clarified these points with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (although, as mentioned above, increasingly these different rights are viewed as inseparable).

Attacks Against Cultural Heritage Are Attacks on Human Rights

International law has also established that the intentional destruction and looting of cultural sites and objects, particularly when it is used to fund groups engaged in violence or oppression, are an important human rights issue. Such attacks are first and foremost attacks against people. They can be a key indicator of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide—as well as atrocity crimes in and of themselves.

The Antiquities Coalition’s Role in the Fight for Cultural Heritage

As long as violent groups such as Daesh (ISIS) work to target communities and their heritage, and loot and sell antiquities to fund their own terrorist agenda, there will be work that needs to be done. This is why the Antiquities Coalition worked with the Middle East Institute and the Asia Society to create the #CultureUnderThreat Task Force, which advocates for new policies, practices, and priorities to reduce the destruction of priceless antiquities and heritage.

To read more about AC’s work to protect cultural heritage as a human right, click here.©-Cui-Xinyu-Xinhua-Alamy-Live-News-1.jpg