The protection of the artistic heritage in the Middle East: a real challenge
By Aurélie Baert,
On 28 April, the Meydane and CEJART associations organized a symposium on the heritage of humanity at risk and its protection, inviting specialists to express their views on the subject.
In 1861 Victor Hugo  was already indignant at the ransacking of the “Imperial Summer Palace” during the Opium Wars in China. While the destruction of cultural property during wartime is not recent, it is deeply relevant given the conflicts in the Middle East. Irina Bokova, Director General of Unesco, even denounces a genuine “cultural cleansing” .
The temple of Baalshamin, one of the most important of the Syrian site of Palmyra, “the pearl of the desert”, was destroyed by jihadists on 23 August 2015. The early stages of its construction date back to the 3rd century BC -Christ. This event has deeply moved the international community and has been firmly condemned by UNESCO.
Isabelle Palmy, Director of the Permanent Secretariat of ICOMOS, recalled that “we are the tenants of heritage”, hence the need to protect it. In the same sense, Irina Bokova considers that it is the bearer of universal values and reflects the multiple faces of our common humanity. What are the main legal tools in place to protect it in conflict zones?
Progressively strengthened international protection
It was in a relatively recent period that international humanitarian law became interested in this protection. The Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 laid down the principle of immunity of cultural property, even in the case of siege or bombing. Guided by the above, the 1954 Hague Convention considers that the conservation of cultural heritage is of great importance to all the peoples of the world and that international protection should be ensured. Its second protocol, adopted in 1999, obliges criminal prosecution of perpetrators.
It is these principles that have established the statutes of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. It should be noted that this Tribunal sentenced Pavle Strugar, who had participated as a military leader in the deliberate destruction of the UNESCO protected Old Town of Dubrovnik to eight years’ imprisonment.
Awareness reached its peak with Resolution 2199 of 12 February 2105, and then Resolution 2347  of the United Nations Security Council dealing exclusively with the safeguarding of cultural heritage, at risk in conflicts. Adopted unanimously, on March 24, 2017, this last resolution sets up two tools:
The concept of a refuge in order to shelter the property and, if this is not possible in their territory of origin, to expatriate them temporarily until the end of the war;
The creation of an international fund to accompany the rescue operations of cultural property (legal structure identical to that of the United Nations AIDS Fund);
According to Vincent Negri , a researcher at CNRS, the Security Council draws a new direction; Coupled with the competence of the International Criminal Court, this approach consolidates the collective responsibility to ensure the protection of our common heritage. According to these United Nations resolutions, they are converting into the conception of the international protection of cultural heritage that prevailed until then. Beyond the awareness it manifests, it forges a principle of international solidarity, faced with a terrorist grouping, such as Daesh.
Against looting and trafficking
The 1970 Unesco Convention and the UNIDROIT Convention are international legal instruments to combat these phenomena: looting of archaeological sites, theft of museums … For the archaeologist Pascal Butterlin, we are witnessing today an instrumentalization Unprecedented pillaging of sites in Syria and Iraq, a real disaster. To stop these trafficking, ICOM has issued an urgent red list of Syrian cultural assets at risk , a sort of vademecum to help art professionals, law enforcement officers and Customs officers to identify more easily those objects protected by national and international law, which are the most likely to be bought and sold illegally. In the same vein, article 56 of the French law of 7 July 2016 and the new article 322-3-2 of the Criminal Code reinforce the arsenal against trafficking in cultural property.
These provisions echo United Nations Security Council Resolution 2199, which establishes a ban on trade in antiques illegally exported from Iraq since 6 August 1990 and from Syria since 15 March 2011, recognizing the link between illicit trafficking Antiques and a potential source of funding for terrorist organizations.
The Museums also want to get involved in this struggle. They sensitized the public, like the exhibition “Sites eternels ”, organized by the Grand Palais at the end of 2016. Etienne Blondeau, curator at the Louvre for the Department of Islamic Arts, Of their documentary work. He cites the PAPSI program, “Project for the Safeguarding of Scientific Archives on the Syrian and Iraqi Heritage”, whose final objective is to publish a detailed inventory with a view in particular to the future restoration of the built heritage or the struggle Against illicit trafficking.
– The Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907; Article 56 of the 1907 Convention already provided that “any seizure, destruction or willful degradation of such establishments, historic monuments, works of art and science shall be prohibited and shall be continued”.
– Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict of 14 May 1954 and its Protocols dated 14 May 1954 and 26 March 1999.
– UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Cultural Property, dated 14 November 1970.
– UNIDROIT Convention of 24 June 1995 on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects.
– Resolution 2199 of the United Nations Security Council
– French law of 7 July 2016 on the freedom of creation, architecture and heritage.
– French law of 25 February 2017, the French parliamentarians authorized France’s accession to the Second Protocol to the Hague Convention of 1954.
– Resolution 2347 of the United Nations Security Council of 24 March 2017
 Meydane : http://www.meydane.org/
 CEJART : http://cejart.fr/
 « L’empire français a empoché la moitié de cette victoire et il étale aujourd’hui avec une sorte de naïveté de propriétaire, le splendide bric-à-brac du Palais d’été », extrait de la lettre de Victor Hugo adressée au capitaine Butler.
 Propos prononcés par Irina Bokova lors de la Conférence internationale portant sur le « patrimoine et diversité culturelle en péril en Irak et en Syrie » à Paris le 3 décembre 2014.
 Vincent Negri, chercheur au CNRS : http://isp.cnrs.fr/?NEGRI-Vincent