The idea that cultural heritage in some way belongs to all of us underpins the work of ICOMOS and is the lodestone of the World Heritage Convention, 1972.

The Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, 1954, forbids any act of hostility to cultural property and in the years since the Iraq War, both the UK and the US have ratified this instrument, the UK in 2017 and the US in 2009. The Convention has now been signed by 133 nations and clearly states the obligations of signatories: “to respect cultural property situated within their own territory as well as within the territory of other High Contracting Parties; … and by refraining from any act of hostility, directed against such property.”

The recent threats expressed by the US president to cultural heritage in Iran are in direct contradiction with this, as well as with the purposes of the World Heritage Convention, 1972, which inscribes properties on the World Heritage List as ‘world heritage for whose protection it is the duty of the international community as a whole to co-operate’.

Iran currently has 24 cultural heritage sites inscribed on the World Heritage list (https://whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/ir) and 56 sites on its Tentative List (https://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/state=ir). These together with many other monuments and sites of national and international societal value reflect in an outstanding way how the country has been shaped in prehistoric, classical and more recent centuries.

ICOMOS-UK is an independent charity, set up in 1965. We have an active membership of individuals and institutions, who come from a wide range of disciplines. ICOMOS-UK promotes appreciation, understanding and conservation of cultural heritage in the UK and worldwide. We are the UK national committee of ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) which has a formal role as an advisory body to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee on cultural World Heritage sites.

Our UK members and technical scientific committees are engaged in conservation of sites and monuments for the benefit of all humanity and some work alongside international colleagues including those in the Middle East region either as independent advisers/consultants or on behalf of UNESCO.

We consider that it is critical to recall the obligations of the Hague Convention and the World Heritage Convention, both of which emphasise how cultural heritage needs to be seen not just as monuments but as sites with a meaning for local, national and international communities as part of their and our sense of identity. The Hague Convention states that ‘any damage to cultural property, irrespective of the people it belongs to, is a damage to the cultural heritage of all humanity, because every people contributes to the world’s culture’, while the World Heritage Convention states that ‘each State Party to this Convention undertakes not to take any deliberate measures which might damage directly or indirectly the cultural and natural heritage …situated on the territory of other States Parties to this Convention’.

In times of conflict, a shared understanding of cultural heritage has often been the catalyst for collaboration between parties: ICOMOS-UK is committed to working across disciplines and across borders to support such an approach.

8th January 2020