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Cultural heritage could be described as a record of the genius of human beings. The legacy of artefacts, antiquities, sacred places as rituals, traditions and living expressions could be seen as unintelligible foot print left behind for the next generations to mark our path through this world. It’s unimaginable to separate a people’s cultural heritage from the people itself and their rights. At the present there are many complex legal cases on cultural heritage waiting to be settled. These cases are a judicial challenge for all stakeholders. For centuries international law has been developed as a vast legal framework to protect cultural heritage. Even though reality shows that laws cannot stop those motivated by malicious ideologies and those who convinced of their impunity, show contemptuous disregard for law itself. When States are supported to ratify those conventions and implement its protective instruments in their domestic legislation, it will help them to aid their own judiciary in prosecution and to protect this heritage through international cooperation.

This Research Guide is intended as a starting point for research in the field of Cultural Heritage. It provides the basic materials available in the Peace Palace Library, both in print and electronic format. Handbooks, leading articles, bibliographies, periodicals, serial publications and documents of interest are presented in the Selective Bibliography section. Links to the PPL Catalogue are inserted. The Library's subject heading (keyword) Cultural Heritage is instrumental for searching through the Catalogue. Special attention is given to our subscriptions on databases, e-journals, e-books and other electronic resources. Finally, this Research Guide features links to relevant websites and other online resources of particular interest.

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Sources of international law

Treaties

Europe

The purpose as outlined in the new Convention is to prevent and combat the intentional destruction of, damage to, and trafficking in cultural property by strengthening criminal justice responses to all offences relating to cultural property while facilitating co-operation on an international level. The work is being carried out in close collaboration with various international organisations, including UNIDROIT, UNESCO, UNODC and the European Union.

The Convention encourages us to recognize that objects and places are not, in themselves, what is important about cultural heritage. They are important because of the meanings and uses that people attach to them and the values they represent.

The revised Convention drew on twenty-two years of experience in implementing the original Convention. It established a body of new basic legal standards for Europe, to be met by national policies for the protection of archaeological assets as sources of scientific and documentary evidence, in line with the principles of integrated conservation.

The main purpose of the Convention is to reinforce and promote policies for the conservation and enhancement of Europe's heritage. It also affirms the need for European solidarity with regard to heritage conservation and is designed to foster practical co-operation among the Parties. It establishes the principles of "European co-ordination of conservation policies" including consultations regarding the thrust of the policies to be implemented.

The purpose of this Convention is to develop mutual understanding among the peoples of Europe and reciprocal appreciation of their cultural diversity, to safeguard European culture, to promote national contributions to Europe's common cultural heritage respecting the same fundamental values and to encourage in particular the study of the languages, history and civilisation of the Parties to the Convention. The Convention contributes to concerted action by encouraging cultural activities of European interest.

International

Referring to existing international human rights instruments, in particular to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights of 1948, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1966, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966 the Convention considers the deep-seated interdependence between the intangible cultural heritage and the tangible cultural and natural heritage.

The convention is intended to protect "all traces of human existence having a cultural, historical or archaeological character" which have been under water for over 100 years. This extends to the protection of shipwrecks, sunken cities, prehistoric art work, treasures that may be looted, sacrificial and burial sites, and old ports that cover the oceans' floors.

The Rome Statute established four core international crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression. Those crimes "shall not be subject to any statute of limitations". The Rome Statute explicitly protects cultural heritage under art 8, deeming its destruction to be a war crime.

To take international cooperation, UNIDROIT was asked by UNESCO to develop the Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects (1995), as a complementary instrument to the 1970 Convention. States commit to a uniform treatment for restitution of stolen or illegally exported cultural objects and allow restitution claims to be processed directly through national courts. Moreover the UNIDROIT Convention covers all stolen cultural objects, not just inventoried and declared ones and stipulates that all cultural property must be returned.

This is the first Treaty with an international instrument dedicated to the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property.

This is the first international treaty with a world-wide vocation focusing exclusively on the protection of cultural heritage in the event of armed conflict. It covers immovable and movable cultural heritage, including monuments of architecture, art or history, archaeological sites, works of art, manuscripts, books and other objects of artistic, historical or archaeological interest, as well as scientific collections of all kinds regardless of their origin or ownership.

The most important purpose of the Roerich Pact is the legal recognition that the defense of cultural objects is more important than the use or destruction of that culture for military purposes, and the protection of culture always has precedence over any military necessity.

Case-law

UN Declarations and Resolutions

Soft law

Reference works

Selected books and articles

Periodicals, serial publications

Bibliographies