Protection of Cultural Heritage in Revolutionary Times
The International Workshop on Prevention of Destruction, Looting and Theft of Cultural Heritage

Cairo, September 2012 - call for papers >

The changing transregional political situation in North Africa and Western Asia has been putting cultural heritage at risk on a scale not seen since the late 1980s to early 1990s when the Iron Curtain was removed that separated Eastern and Western Europe during the transition from communism to democratically elected parliaments and greater social freedom. Some of the main challenges to protecting cultural property that Eastern Europe faced were the lack of administrative continuity, government funding, and enforceable laws and regulations in the field of cultural heritage management. A similar situation is now unfolding throughout North Africa and Western Asia as many countries try to change from authoritarian regimes to greater social, political and economic freedom. Many of the problems, such as looting and vandalism, are just increased risks that are faced on a daily basis in peace times, others such as the speed of development projects, including the building of dams in the Sudan need special attention.

This ECHO Workshop is designed to bring archaeologists, cultural heritage managers, developers, politicians, antiquities traders, collectors, conservators and other stakeholders together from around the region to discuss ways of preventing looting, vandalism, destruction and stealing of cultural property. How effective has the UNESCO 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict been in these recent developments? The 1954 Hague Convention came into being as a result of World War II, however, as the type of conflict now being fought has changed since 1945 it seems an appropriate time to re-evaluate the procedures in place to protect the world's cultural heritage. The UNESCO 1970 Paris Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property and the UNESCO 1972 Paris Convention Concerning Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage and how they have been implemented and can be improved are also relevant due to recent events.

As well as the demonstrations and the political, social and economic reforms taking place in what has been termed the Arab Spring, certain fractions of the population are taking advantage of the situation and putting at risk the natural and cultural heritage. This has not only taken the form of looting and theft but of encroachment by modern buildings on protected antiquities land. Sites and monuments, both small and large are regularly destroyed due to the construction of buildings, infrastructure, farmland or fish farms. In countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, the USA and countries across Europe, the cultural protection system has become highly proceduralised, with laws having been passed, procedures established, and government agencies created to implement the system. Other countries, especially those that are economically disadvantaged, have few established protocols or government staff to oversee development activities, although they will normally have antiquities departments, but their efforts are usually focused on known monuments and heritage sites; thus they may not express much interest prior to construction, but will be interested if a discovery is made. This lack of heritage legislation in these countries has led to many developers taking advantage of the situation and undertaking construction of buildings and amenities without first conducting environmental impact assessments (EIAs). This is resulting in many archaeological sites being destroyed without first being recorded.

The promotion of developmental ethics is essential if cultural properties are to be affectively protected. Development has to be seen in the first place as the development of the human potential for social improvement (Tahseen al-Haal). In order to achieve that, any developmental project must emphasise and inculcate traditional Arab notions of “Al-Akhlaq Al-Hamida” (Social Virtues) enshrined in proverbs but often not modal practices. Legislation is thus needed to make the developers consider and pay for the protection or excavation of any cultural heritage in the area they intend to develop. Another related area of legislation is a treasure trove act, whereby anyone discovering any artefacts of archaeological remains is adequately recompensed at the market value of those remains. In the new political order that is developing in certain countries and still hoped for in others what role can cultural heritage play in forming new national identities, and how will it be protected during the reconstruction and development phase? The new political order that is emerging is an ideal situation to develop legislation and apparatus to protect cultural heritage against destruction by developers and to establish means of rewarding diligent citizens for reporting the presence of archaeology on their land.

Strategies undertaken after removal of the iron curtain in Europe included: revising legislation to provide for improved cultural heritage stewardship and integration into disaster management; making disaster planning a national priority; skill development and professional training; media coverage of the challenge to sensitise governments at all levels and the general public; marking structures with the ‘Blue Shield' denoting protected status under the 1954 Hague Convention; increased contacts with international organisations and those in other countries within and outside the region; establishing a special tax to fund disaster planning, mitigation and relief; and encouraging private and public partnerships. These strategies are all areas that should be explored in the ECHO Workshop.

The workshop objective will be to create recommendations for national and international strategies for integrating cultural heritage management into development, disaster, war and civil unrest planning mitigation and relief, at local, national and international levels in the context of regional and international cooperation. Representatives from various countries in the region, as well as from UNESCO, ICOMOS, ANCBS, World Monuments Fund and other international bodies will be invited to discuss the challenges and procedures for accomplishing this integration. Presentations will also be invited on the latest technology and computer programmes for preventing theft and looting, as well as for inventorying collections.

Topics likely to be discussed will be the creation of heritage environmental records (aka SMRs), national archaeological surveys, community archaeology, training of specialised security staff, the installation of CCTV, the effects of developer-funded archaeology, museum and magazine inventory programmes and further national and international legislation. The various means of prohibiting and preventing the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property will also be examined and how bilateral and multilateral agreements can help in this quest. At the conclusion of the workshop participants from each country and international body will be asked to present a plan for initiating the process of integration, with objectives, strategies, projected results and timetables. The implementation of such strategies may be extremely expensive; as such certain developing countries may need to have funds made available from the international bodies in cooperation with NGOs and private companies to be able to more effectively protect their cultural properties.

Information on the venue and price will be posted in the next few months. The format of the conference will be a series of invited lectures from prominent people involved in cultural heritage management, followed by a series of papers and then a round table discussion to debate the various issues. This is not a forum for presenting the results of archaeological excavations or other research projects, but rather to develop ideas on the management of cultural heritage, particularly its protection and conservation. This is a platform to define new concepts in heritage value and participation. New intellectual, conceptual and applied engagements with cultural heritage values can also be explored.

Various questions have arisen due to the socio-political changes occurring across North Africa and South-western Asia, the main questions to be addressed will be:

  1. How effective were national and international legislation in protecting cultural property in times of civil unrest, and how can they be improved?
  2. How can modern technology be used to combat theft and looting?
  3. How effective was participatory planning and community archaeology in the period of civil unrest in protecting cultural heritage?
  4. What practical steps need to be undertaken to create national sites and monuments registers?
  5. How effective were the physical measures taken to secure and guard sites and monuments?
  6. How can public and private engagement with heritage be increased in the new political order?

The papers from this workshop will be included in a volume of edited papers along with the overall recommendations. Those interested in attending this workshop should follow the instructions given in the Call for Papers and submit to ECHO at


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Protection of Cultural Heritage in Revolutionary Times: The International Workshop on Prevention of Destruction, Looting and Theft of Cultural Heritage. Cairo, September 2012.
Call for Papers

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