Newcastle University establish UNESCO Chair for cultural protection

Newcastle University Press Release

Newcastle University has been invited by UNESCO to join its prestigious universities network and establish the first ever UNESCO Chair in Cultural Property Protection and Peace.

New worldwide partnerships

Through the accolade – awarded by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) with the full support of the UK National Commission for UNESCO – Newcastle University will deliver training and capacity building activities and build new partnerships worldwide to mitigate the destruction of cultural property during conflict and strengthen the use of UNESCO World Heritage Sites as tools for peace.

Professor Peter Stone OBE, Head of the School of Arts and Cultures at Newcastle University, will be appointed as the UNESCO Chairholder.

One of the UK’s leading specialists in protecting cultural property during armed conflict, Professor Stone has acted as a specialist advisor to the UK government regarding the identification and protection of the cultural heritage in Iraq. He is also Chair of the UK Committee for the Blue Shield; the cultural heritage equivalent of the Red Cross.

Professor Peter Stone said: “In any conflict, there are not just the human casualties but also casualties in terms of the cultural property and heritage of a society. The destruction of cultural property, and associated trade in illicit antiquities, strikes at the identity, cohesion, well-being, and economic potential of affected communities and undermines opportunities for intercultural dialogue. It robs the world of its past.

“Through the UNESCO Chair, Newcastle University will work with governments, the armed forces, the heritage sector and the public to foster a better understanding of the value of cultural property.

“I’m extremely grateful for the support of the UK National Commission for UNESCO in establishing this Chair. There is an almost unprecedented urgency to mitigate the destruction of cultural property, and we hope this Chair will make a significant contribution to what is becoming a defining issue for the current generation.”
Developing a global culture of peace

Professor Stone will work with the military to build on the implementation of new policies and training which have, since 2003, already encouraged many armed forces to take the protection of cultural property during conflict seriously as part of their duties while on the ground in conflict situations. He will also work with colleagues at UNESCO World Heritage sites worldwide to investigate the potential use of drawing upon these sites to develop a global culture of peace and collective responsibility for the protection of these historic sites, which belong to all peoples of the world.

The objectives of Newcastle’s UNESCO Chair connect closely with the current focus of the UN’s heritage body which earlier this year launched, UNITE4HERITAGE. This campaign is looking to harness its global standards and legal mechanisms – like the World Heritage Convention – to coordinate the work of armed forces, Interpol, the World Customs Organization, museums, leading auction houses and national governments, to block the black market trade in cultural artefacts in order to protect cultural sites. UNESCO works around the world to harness the power of culture to reconcile people and bring them together.
Strengthening our shared heritage

The UK National Commission for UNESCO, which is a hub between UNESCO, UK government and UK Civil Society, supported Professor Stone through the application process. The UK National Commission for UNESCO’s Culture Director, Helen Maclagan said of the announcement:

“I am delighted that Newcastle University will join the prestigious UK and global network of UNESCO Chairs – eminent research institutions that, within their different fields and academic focus, are all working towards achieving UNESCO’s overall goal of building peace and sustainable development in the minds of men and women.

“Our hope is that, as a member of the dynamic global universities network, and working under the powerful UNESCO brand, Professor Stone’s critical work in the protection of our shared, World Heritage will be enhanced and strengthened”.

Culture Minister, Ed Vaizey said: “The protection of cultural property during conflict is of huge importance and I welcome Professor Stone and Newcastle University to the role of the first UNESCO Chair to protect cultural heritage at risk of destruction.

“While the UK’s priority will continue to be the human cost of these horrific conflicts, I am in no doubt that the UK must also do what we can to prevent any further cultural destruction. The loss of a country’s heritage threatens its very identity. The knowledge and expertise of the experts in our cultural institutions makes us uniquely qualified to help. I believe that the UK therefore has a vital responsibility to support cultural protection overseas and recent events have confirmed the urgency of this.”

Professor Chris Brink, Vice-Chancellor of Newcastle University added: “This prestigious honour recognises the world-leading expertise we have at Newcastle University in cultural property protection. Professor Stone’s work over the last decade has had a major impact in encouraging the military, governments and other policy makers to take cultural property protection more seriously. With the benefit of his knowledge and expert guidance, this UNESCO Chair will play a critical role in protecting the world’s cultural heritage for future generations.”

Watch an interview with Professor Stone here.

REMINDER! UK Blue Shield Renews Calls for Britain’s Ratification of the 1954 Hague Convention

The UK Blue Shield is renewing its campaign to get the UK Government to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. Professor Peter Stone OBE, Chair of the UK Blue Shield, said:

While many in the UK have reacted with indignation at the appalling destruction of ancient sites, libraries, archives, and museums in the Middle East and Africa, few seem to realise that the UK remains the only Permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council not to have ratified the 1954 Hague Convention.

Ratification has cross-Party support, including support from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport; the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; the Department for Overseas Development; and the Ministry of Defence.

The UK Blue Shield needs everybody who values cultural heritage to write to their MP about this urgent matter. A draft template and a factsheet can be downloaded here and here and if anyone doesn’t know the name or contact details of their MP, that information can be obtained here.

If you are unsure of the need for Britain to ratify the 1954 Hague Convection, the Committee members request that you please watch this short three-minute film Protecting cultural property during war.

Supporters can stay up-to-date with the UK Blue Shield and its campaign by following it on Twitter and Facebook. For further information, please contact Philip Deans, Campaign Assistant for the UK Blue Shield, at philip.deans@ncl.ac.uk. Finally, to help the Committee members keep track of the campaign, it is also asked that when anyone does write to their MP, would they please let Philip know using the email address supplied above.

Peter Stone chairs ‘Culture on the Frontline: Protecting Cultural Heritage in Conflict Zones’

On Wednesday 1 July, Peter Stone chaired a closed session at Chatham House, The Royal Institute of International Affairs, at which Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO was the only speaker on ‘Culture on the Frontline: Protecting Cultural Heritage in Conflict Zones’. The discussion was attended by senior politicians, academics, senior museum staff, Chatham House Members, and representatives of the wider heritage sector.

Stone chairs Chatham House discussion on heritage protection

Image courtesy of UNESCO

Stone chairs Chatham House meeting

Image courtesy of UNESCO

British Government Announces Plans to Ratify the 1954 Hague Convention

The UK National Committee of the Blue Shield (UKBS) welcomes an announcement today by John Whittingdale, the Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport, that the British Government plans to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. Professor Peter Stone, Chair of the UKBS, said:

This is excellent news for which we have been waiting and campaigning for the last decade and more. However, I note with some trepidation that as yet there is still no clear timeframe for ratification and that, in the information we have so far, there is no mention of the two Protocols to the Convention. I shall be writing to the Secretary of State to clarify these two issues, while congratulating him on this announcement.

The 1954 Hague Convention is the primary piece of International Humanitarian Legislation concerning the protection of cultural property during armed conflict. It was first adopted by countries following the wholesale destruction of tangible culture which took place during the Second World War and, since then, has provided a framework for those countries to protect cultural property from the effects of international and domestic armed conflict. Parties to the Convention are required to respect cultural property situated within the territory of other Parties by not attacking it, and to respect cultural property within their own territory by not using it for purposes which are likely to expose it to destruction or damage during armed conflict.

Professor Eleanor Robson, Chair of the British Institute for the Study of Iraq and Board Member of the UKBS, added:

ISIS’ current rampage across northern Iraq and Syria has drawn urgent international attention to the plight of cultural heritage in times of war. By ratifying the 1954 Hague Convention, the UK Government will send a clear signal of its commitment to protecting civilian communities and their histories if it should ever intervene in this conflict or others, and provide the armed forces a clear mandate to do so.

In addition to announcing the British Government’s intention to ratify the 1954 Hague Convection, the Secretary of State John Whittingdale also announced that the Government planned to develop a new cultural protection fund to support the protection of cultural property and their recovery from acts of cultural destruction, and planned to bring together in the summer a summit of senior Government colleagues and cultural leaders to advise on the proposed new legislation and shape the delivery of a new cultural protection fund.

UK Blue Shield Renews Calls for Britain’s Ratification of the 1954 Hague Convention

The UK Blue Shield is renewing its campaign to get the UK Government to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. Professor Peter Stone OBE, Chair of the UK Blue Shield, said:

While many in the UK have reacted with indignation at the appalling destruction of ancient sites, libraries, archives, and museums in the Middle East and Africa, few seem to realise that the UK remains the only Permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council not to have ratified the 1954 Hague Convention.

Ratification has cross-Party support, including support from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport; the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; the Department for Overseas Development; and the Ministry of Defence.

The UK Blue Shield needs everybody who values cultural heritage to write to their MP about this urgent matter. A draft template and a factsheet can be downloaded here and here and if anyone doesn’t know the name or contact details of their MP, that information can be obtained here.

If you are unsure of the need for Britain to ratify the 1954 Hague Convection, the Committee members request that you please watch this short three-minute film Protecting cultural property during war.

Supporters can stay up-to-date with the UK Blue Shield and its campaign by following it on Twitter and Facebook. For further information, please contact Philip Deans, Campaign Assistant for the UK Blue Shield, at philip.deans@ncl.ac.uk. Finally, to help the Committee members keep track of the campaign, it is also asked that when anyone does write to their MP, would they please let Philip know using the email address supplied above.