There was a very interesting talk last night on cultural heritage and international law delivered by Roger O’Keefe, professor of international law at University College London. Prof O’Keefe’s paper, presented as the Harry Weinrebe Annual Memorial Lecture at the British Institute of International and Comparative Law (BIICL), was entitled ‘The Protection of Cultural Property, the Maintenance of International Peace and Security, and Public International Law’.
In the hour-long talk, he described what he sees as a shift under international law that has taken place over the past 15 years or so. While cultural heritage was once seen as solely being worthy of protection due to its intrinsic value, a new view, according to him, now links cultural heritage protection in warzones with international peace and security. The two views now exist in parallel: cultural heritage protection as a good in itself and cultural heritage protection as a means to an end, namely the peace and stability of a particular region. Thus cultural heritage protection in places like Iraq, Syria and Mali has become an essential element in the international attempt to bring peace to those areas. Prof O’Keefe’s perspective is one that requires serious consideration by all experts in the field, and hopefully can serve as a signpost towards greater appreciation of cultural heritage in international law.
In a similar though institutionally unrelated event yesterday, London City Hall witnessed the launch of a brand new UK Parliamentary Group: the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Protection of Cultural Heritage. This is, as the name suggests, a cross-party and unofficial group made up of MPs and Lords that will henceforth promote the protection of heritage in some of those very countries mentioned above. The new group will be co-chaired by MP David Burrowes and Lord Colin Renfrew, while the secretariat will be assumed by the charitable organisation Walk of Truth. Speeches at the launch were given by Burrowes, Renfrew, Walk of Truth founder Tasoula Hadjitofi, Peter Stone of the Blue Shield, Claire Hutcheon of New Scotland Yard and London Mayor Boris Johnson (the Mayor pictured below at the event between Hadjitofi and Burrowes; photo by Jason Charalambous).