Protecting cultural heritage from armed conflicts in Ukraine and beyond

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“Protecting cultural heritage from armed conflicts in  Ukraine and beyond” by the CULT Committee of the European Parliament. The study explores ways to protect cultural heritage from armed conflicts in Ukraine and beyond, analysing international law, policy frameworks, and past conflicts. Moreover, it provides recommendations for EU Member States to enhance protection.

Here is a quick overview based on the document and the Executive Summary:

Key findings

  • “Cultural heritage is often targeted and may even be at the centre of armed conflicts.”Cultural heritage, including tangible and intangible objects, is frequently targeted in armed conflicts. Damage or destruction can occur due to collateral damage, military reasons, ideological motives, or economic gain. Breakdowns in the rule of law can also lead to looting.
  • “Cultural heritage protection is key to peace, security and the sustainable development of societies.”The EU faces threats to cultural heritage, legal order, security, and external relations, including Ukraine’s war, necessitating the reconceptualisation of mechanisms and tools to protect cultural heritage.
  • “The protection of cultural heritage in armed conflict has a solid basis in international law. It is covered by international humanitarian law, but also human rights law, cultural heritage law and criminal law.”The EU and Member States are obligated to safeguard cultural heritage in armed conflict, utilizing a complex regulatory framework involving international obligations, regional treaty law, EU instruments, and domestic law.
  • International initiatives to protect cultural heritage in Ukraine are numerous, and many actors are involved with overlapping mandates.” Initiatives aim to monitor damage, provide emergency relief, train professionals, digitise inventories, and support the cultural sector, but the lack of coordination and standards poses risks of duplication.
  • “Projects to safeguard or restore conflict-affected cultural heritage have major social impacts, and participation of local communities is key to their success.” Cultural heritage can fuel conflicts when claimed as exclusive national heritage. Insufficient independent monitoring of attacks on cultural heritage is needed. Post-conflict recovery projects need full integration of local communities for reconciliation impact.


States should have measures in place before a conflict breaks out. Such measures include:

(1) the preparation of inventories;

(2) the preparation of plans for the removal of collections (to refuges or safe havens);

(3) the planning of emergency measures for protection against fire or structural damage. Apart from measures regarding local cultural heritage, take measures to safeguard foreign cultural heritage. These include:

(4) the training of armed forces and law enforcement on cultural heritage protection;

(5) Regulating the possible prosecution of crimes

against cultural heritage;

(6) The prevention of the trade in looted cultural objects from conflict


“Cultural heritage protection should be integrated within the international system for

humanitarian aid and peacekeeping.” Emergency response protocols often overlook cultural heritage’s role in recovery. Integrating it into emergency coordination systems and peacekeeping missions is crucial for adequate protection and broader coordinated response.

“Independent monitoring of the impact of armed conflicts on cultural heritage would enhance

accountability for war crimes, as well as post-conflict peacebuilding efforts.” The Core International Crimes Evidence Database (CICED) has highlighted the need for a comprehensive system for monitoring cultural heritage during armed conflicts, enhancing response to crimes or injustices.


“1 Address emergencies in Ukraine

  • Address outstanding gaps in emergency relief (e.g., digitisation of inventories).
  • Raise awareness about unlawfully exported cultural objects that may enter the market with forged provenances.
  • Support a clear strategy for the post-war recovery of cultural heritage, and promote it within the framework of the National Recovery Framework Plan for Ukraine.
  • Protect and promote the cultural rights of refugees from Ukraine in EU Member States.

2 Close the accountability gap:

  • Ensure the independent monitoring of attacks on cultural heritage.
  • Ensure that heritage-related crimes are considered by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) and in submissions to the CICED.
  • Ensure that domestic legislation in EU Member States, and any tribunal set up specifically for Ukraine, enables the prosecution of crimes against cultural heritage.
  • Consider adopting measures that prevent entities within the EU from supporting, directly or indirectly, the unlawful removal of cultural objects or excavations of archaeological sites, including through cooperation with institutions or persons that engage in such unlawful behaviour

3 Coordinate measures and policies at the EU level:

  • Establish a dedicated EU body to coordinate the protection of cultural heritage.
  • Integrate cultural heritage protection into the broader field of emergency relief and humanitarian aid.
  • Include cultural heritage in mandates for EU peacekeeping missions.
  • Ensure coordination among national law enforcement and the relevant EU agencies on matters concerning illicit trade.
  • Regulate the issue of safe havens to temporarily safeguard collections from conflict zones, to avoid uncertainties about their legal status.

4 Ensure that preparatory measures are in place in EU Member States:

  • • Further support the setting-up of inventories and their digitisation within cultural institutions and heritage sites across the EU.
  • Support the development of (emergency) preparedness policies and laws across the EU.
  • Promote the setting-up and training of (sizeable) dedicated units in the military and law enforcement, including border control.

5 Address the illicit trafficking of cultural objects from conflict zones:

  • Raise awareness that looted cultural objects from conflict zones circulate on the EU market.
  • Introduce mandatory due diligence standards for the trade in cultural goods, to mitigate the risks of looted cultural objects from war zones being traded.
  • Create an open access database of national legislation pertaining to cultural heritage, or support an update of the existing (outdated) UNESCO database.”

6 Focus on community participation and memorialisation in the recovery and

reconstruction phase:

• Ensure that local communities are involved in decision-making processes of recovery and

reconstruction at all stages and all levels.

• Include peacebuilding actions, such as those relating to memorialisation, in recovery projects.”

Our take

“Protecting cultural heritage from armed conflicts in Ukraine and beyond”  is immensely useful as it, not only, identifies problems and solutions around the complexities of cultural heritage in conflict. In addition, it clearly explains and defines the terminology and background of heritage and the issue at hand. The information presented is comprehensive and easily accessible, which makes the topic available to a broader public.

I want to learn more:

Report on protecting Ukrainian cultural heritage

Download: Protecting cultural heritage from armed conflicts in Ukraine and beyond  (also attached)

Committee on Culture and Education.


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