UNESCO’s workshop on the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict was piloted in Estonia


On 11 January, the three-day international training workshop on the preservation and protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict, ended in Tallinn. The workshop, organized by UNESCO in collaboration with the Estonian Defence Forces, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Culture and the National Heritage Board for civil and military personnel from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, focused on the crisis preparedness of the heritage sector and exchanging best practices.

UNESCO has developed a training course for military on the implementation of the 1954 Hague Convention and the preservation and protection of cultural property by the military. Whereas the urgent need is to provide the training in Ukraine, it is meant to serve as a tool for all UNESCO’s Member States. The course is generic and could be used by any armed forces to train their Cultural Property Protection specialist officers. Estonia agreed to pilot this course.

„This comprehensive multilateral treaty dedicated exclusively to the protection of cultural heritage in times of peace as well as during an armed conflict was adopted under the auspices of UNESCO in the wake of the World War II. Today, as we witness a number of armed conflicts globally, including in Europe, we are reminded of the importance of the universal ratification and sound implementation of the Hague Convention and of putting in place measures that ensure the protection of cultural property, the heritage of humankind and the memory of the world,” said UNESCO representative Krista Pikkat.

The main purpose of the three-day workshop was to equip the military and civilian personnel with relevant knowledge related to international legal obligations, with regard to the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict. The first two days of the course were primarily aimed at active and reserve soldiers in the field of civil-military cooperation. On the third day, a visit to St Nicholas Church in the Old Town of Tallinn, a cultural property which was heavily bombed in 1944, was organized to discuss a case-study of evacuation of artworks. The visit was followed by a roundtable, where best practices, notably in terms of protection of cultural property and legislative measures, were shared.

“The target group of the workshop was officers of the Estonian Defense Forces and Civil-Military Cooperation (CIMIC), including our colleagues from Latvia and Lithuania, as well as officers of the Military Police and lawyers of the Defense Forces. The training was the first step to provide basic knowledge and practical planning skills to protect objects under state protection, to prevent damage or theft, and to record cultural values that have already been destroyed. The aim was and is to make the defense forces aware of the importance of protecting cultural heritage in wartime and to promote cooperation with civilian structures,” said Lieutenant Colonel Gert Treu, Chief of CIMIC branch of the Estonian Defence Forces.

“We are very grateful that such a course has been launched and we had the opportunity to contribute and learn from it. The protection of cultural heritage, both in times of war and peace, is very important, because the destruction of historical buildings, objects, places and symbols of identity is breathtaking. Protecting, restoring and rebuilding helps to maintain morale and hope in difficult times. We can see this clearly today from the experience of Ukraine. We very much hope that the training piloted in Tallinn will become an effective tool for increasing crisis preparedness in the field of cultural heritage both in Estonia and elsewhere,” said Janika Turu, head of the Department of Museums and Artistic Heritage of the Heritage Protection Board.

Estonia ratified the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict in 1995, and its two Protocols in 2005. The 1954 Hague Convention and its Protocols are major instruments for maintaining and building peace. Their main objective is to protect heritage while preventing the outbreak of conflicts, the escalation of hostilities and facilitating peace mediation during conflicts and post- conflict rehabilitation and reconciliation.

The workshop marks the 70th anniversary of the Hague Convention and the 25th anniversary of its Second Protocol.