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Cultural Heritage

Cultural heritage is a means to promote international peace and security, as well as a vector to strengthen international relations. It is therefore important to understand how it is protected under international law, whether as a human right or as cultural property under international humanitarian law. Over the past few years, the destruction of cultural heritage has drawn particular attention to this expanding field of international law.

In reference to the armed conflict in Ukraine, we have analysed how international law protects Ukrainian cultural heritage and whether it is it protected differently than other civilian objects. Read our short commentary here. In the past, we have also raised the plight of cultural heritage in Yemen and other armed conflicts.

BIICL is raising awareness about the international rules protecting cultural heritage, providing training and a discussion forum to relevant stakeholders, as well as leading research into the current gaps in cultural heritage law. The first short course on cultural heritage law took place in November 2021. 

BIICL is currently undertaking a project 'Beyond Restitution: Exploring the Story of Cultural Objects After Their Repatriation', which will seek to offer a longer-term view on restitution through an analysis of past experiences. The project is funded by the Leverhulme Trust. In September 2023, we completed a report on strengthening climate resilience through the safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) within the laws and policies of Pacific small island States. It includes a multi-level analysis of the relevant frameworks in selected Pacific Island States. For more on the project, see here.

On 20 October 2021, BIICL published a Working Paper on 'The Role of Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) in the Protection of Intangible Cultural Heritage', in line with sustainable development. Beyond considering the main international legal and policy instruments relevant to the protection of ICH in the context of infrastructure construction projects, this Working Paper undertakes a comparative analysis of of the sustainability policies of seven leading MDBs and an examination of four relevant case studies, before concluding with a set of initial findings and recommendations. This research was funded by the Dorset Foundation.


Related Events

Culture, Art, Cultural Identity and Small States, 17-19 November 2021  

On 17-19 November 2021, BIICL co-organised, with WilmerHale and the Institute of Small and Micro States, a two-day conference on Culture, Art, Cultural Identity and Small States, which included both the incoming and outgoing Special Rapporteurs in the field of cultural rights. The conclusion panel was chaired by Kristin Hausler, and included Catherine C Cole, Heritage Consultant, Catherine C. Cole & Associates, Ana Tuiketei, Barrister and Arbitrator, Suva, Fiji, and Dr Alexandra Xanthaki, Professor, Brunel University, UN Special Rapporteur in the Field of Cultural Rights. Watch the recording here.

Success and Challenges for the EU External Cultural Relations, 20 April 2021 

On 20 April 2021, Kristin Hausler moderated a panel hosted by the University of Florida as part of the Jean Monnet Center of Excellence Webinar Series. The panelists included Guillaume Decot (European External Action Service), Damien Helly (Culture Solutions) and Dr Elke Selter. Speakers considered the protection and enhancement of cultural heritage in conflict and crisis and its integration in peace-building initiatives, as well as the possible opportunities in the EU-US relations offered by the new US presidency and the multi-year EU budget programming. You can watch the recording here.

Toppled Statues and Monuments: Perspectives on the Global Movement Confronting Heritage, 16 July 2020 

On the 7th of June 2020, the statue of Edward Colston was toppled and pushed into Bristol Harbour by Black Lives Matter protesters during the George Floyd protests. On the 17th of June, following years of debate and protests from the Rhodes Must Fall campaign group, the governing body of Oriel College in Oxford called for the controversial statue of Cecil Rhodes to be removed. This webinar discussed these events from an international and comparative perspective by considering the changing nature of cultural heritage as a legal concept, as well as heritage laws and statue politics in other jurisdictions such as Belgium, Ghana, Hong Kong, India, and South Africa, as well as the wider role of heritage in reconciliation. You can watch the recording here.

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