Azerbaijan: Commitment to Protection of cultural rights and cultural heritage
On 27 September 2007, at the initiative of Azerbaijan, the UN Human Rights Council adopted by consensus the resolution on protection of cultural rights and property in situations of armed conflict.
That resolution urged all states to take necessary measures at the national, regional and international levels to address the issue of protection of cultural rights and property and to provide appropriate assistance as requested by the concerned States. About 30 countries joined this resolution as co-sponsors.
What is the rationale to raise this issue in the Human Rights Council? Where does this idea emanate from?
Tangible and intangible cultural heritage have been always both subject of admiration and abuse throughout the world history. Azerbaijan is of the view that preservation of the cultural heritage of humankind is a moral responsibility of all countries regardless of its ethnic origin, religious background, political system or geographic location.
Looting and destruction of museums, libraries, religious shrines and sites have always disturbed progres-sive mankind. And given the world history, by now we all should have drawn the necessary lessons not to allow the repetition of grave mistakes of the past. One has to recall the sorrowful fate of the original Amber Room, just as one of many examples. Appaling destruction of the Buddhas of Bamyan or of the Mostar Bridge, the shelling of Dubrovnik, looting of museums in Iraq demonstrates how cultural heritage is chosen as an easy target. Unfortunately, armed conflicts are almost by definition accompanied with the serious and deliberate violations of international humanitarian laws and human rights laws which have negative impacts on cultural rights and property. It should be noted with deep regret that sometimes, attempts to wipe out the traces of the past are used as a means of war and revenge to serve someone’s narrow, often criminal political ambitions.
All human rights should have a same degree of attention, without any order of superiority between them. The UN Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, the fifteenth anniversary of which we just recently
commemorated, clearly stipulates that "all human rights are universal, indivisible interdependent and mutually reinforcing and must be treated in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing and with the same emphasis", including cultural rights.
Protection of human rights should be ensured in all circumstances and this protection should not be limited to the first generation of human rights only, but should also cover economic, social and cultural rights. There should be no hierarchy between different rights. There should be no place for artificially dividing human rights into "main" and "secondary" rights.
Therefore, protection of cultural rights and property both in situations of armed conflict, and also times of peace deserved and to continues to deserve much more attention of the relevant international foras, including the Human Rights Council.
The above-mentioned resolution is aimed to address the issue of inter-
linkage between the human rights law and the inter-national humanitarian law, their co-relatedness and mutually reinforcing nature and to send the strong message that human rights have to be protected in all circumstances even when the IHL is applicable. It should be noted that resolution 5/1 of the Human Rights Council on the institution building refers to the complementarity and mutual interrelatedness of human rights law and international humanitarian law, explicitly referencing applicable international humanitarian law, and violations of all human rights and all fundamental freedoms occurring in any part of the world and under any circumstances.
The resolution calls upon all States to respect the rules on the protection of cultural property and emphasizes that protection of cultural property can contribute to the full enjoyment of the right of everyone to take part in cultural life.
Human Rights Council further urges all states to take all necessary measures at the national, regional and international levels to address the issue of protection of cultural rights and property and to provide appropriate assistance as requested by the concerned States.
As the main sponsor of the resolution Azerbaijan is making considerable efforts to scrupulously implement its provisions. The steps taken by Azerbaijan in this regard are by no means accidental, but rather goal-oriented. Protection of cultural property and ensuring cultural rights were elevated to level of state policy in Azerbaijan.
According the Constitution of the Republic of Azerbaijan, protection of historical and cultural monuments is a responsibility of each citizen of Azerbaijan. Preservation and restoration of the national tangible and intangible national heritage is a state-supportive process. Every Azerbaijani is proud that their Mugham-Azerbaijani folk music or the ancient Inner City of Baku ("Icheri Sheher") have been incorporated by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in the list of protected masterpieces of verbal and intangible heritage of the world.
All monuments in Azerbaijan were registered under uniform system and have a special registration card. Azerbaijan has adopted law on the protection of historical and cultural monuments, law on Museums, law on legal protection of the samples of Azerbaijani Folklore.
Along the same lines, last year the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan together with the Heydar Aliyev Foundation has issued the volume entitled "War against Azerbaijan: targeting cultural heritage" that is the result of the scientific research of several years and refers to the challenges faced by Azerbaijan in the field of protection of its
cultural heritage as a result of the ongoing conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, that resulted in the illegal foreign occupation of almost one-fifth of the internationally recognised territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan. The volume serves as a comprehensive introduction to the Azerbaijani cultural heritage in the occupied Azerbaijani territories and in Armenia. The information on the Azerbaijani monuments, including the list of cultural resources left in the occupied districts, the available audio-visual material, as well as satellite images of different periods is sufficient to get acquainted with the state of this legacy before the conflict and the deliberate policy of destruction by the occupying forces after the end of the active phase of the conflict.
As another practical step to demonstrate Azerbaijan’s commitment to the implementation of the above-mentioned resolution of the Human Rights Council, the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Azerbaijan has organized, under the high patronage of the Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva Mr. Sergey Ordzhonikidze, the exhibition entitled "Customs on Guard: Protecting Cultural Heritage". The goal of the exhibition was to highlight the prominent role that can be performed and has been played by the State Customs Committee of Azerbaijan in the field of safeguarding the cultural heritage through prevention of unlawful removal of national and international treasure from the territory of the country. In a way, it is a unique event. The works of arts and crafts, manuscripts, old books, numismatic items, carpets, coins and other cultural goods confiscated by the State Customs Committee were displayed at the exhibition. The State Customs Committee of the Republic of Azerbaijan prevented valuable artworks, artifacts, historical objects from being smuggled from and through Azerbaijan. All these objects have been returned to the true owners - museums, libraries, state bodies, religious departments, Institutes of History and Manuscripts.
The organization of the exhibition, which was a clear success, has served as a clear manifestation of the genuine commitment of the Government of Azerbaijan to the important cause of protection not only of its own cultural heritage but also that of the others.
Photos: Action Press/Virot