As the world waits for some sort of international response to the Syrian chemical weapons attack, UNESCO will no doubt be anxiously considering the implications for heritage in Syria, including six World Heritage Sites.
The very nature of most material heritage is that it needs money, time and care to preserve it for future generations. The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, said earlier this year, that “destroying the inheritance of the past, which is the legacy for future generations, serves no purpose except that of deepening hatred and despair and it further weakens the foundations for cohesion of Syrian society.” UNESCO, the Syrian population and everyone who cares about protecting heritage will be hoping that Syrian sites do not suffer the same fate as those in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the UK, the Chilcott Inquiry (set up to examine the decision by the British Government to go to war in Iraq) has heard from heritage organisations about the catastrophic impact of war on Iraqi cultural heritage. In terms of the legal framework of heritage protection, the UK is still not a signatory to the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two Protocols of 1954 and 1999. There seems little prospect of the UK signing the Convention any time soon. Let's hope that cultural heritage protection features as a factor in the response to the atrocities that have taken place in Syria.