UNIFIL female peacekeepers join military officers from region in protecting cultural heritage
Cultural heritage and cultural properties have been destroyed, looted and trafficked throughout history, particularly during conflict and post-conflict situations. Armed forces around the world play a key role in preserving and safeguarding cultural property in time of war and conflict and women’s role in that is paramount.
UNIFIL female peacekeepers joined some 40 female military officers from the MENA region in Lebanon earlier this month for a first-of-its-kind three-day workshop on “Protecting cultural property in armed conflicts.”
The 1-3 October workshop was the first UNESCO-organized event focused only on female military personnel, with participants from UNIFIL, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), the Jordanian Armed Forces and the Iraqi Armed Forces.
On the first two days, a variety of local and international experts introduced the participants to the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two Protocols, one of them ratified by Lebanon in 1960.
Dr. Eric Klein, a UNESCO technical adviser, said the workshop sought to establish a women’s forum bringing together a diversity of ideas, and to think and reflect on the protection of cultural property best practices and policies.
“One of the most important things that we wanted to do with this workshop was to bring together female military from the MENA region,” he said.
Participants spent the last day at the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Al Mina” in the southern Lebanese city of Tyre, reviewing on-the-ground scenarios of securing and protecting a cultural site and artefacts.
For Major Maria Donk, UNIFIL Military Gender Adviser, participating in this workshop was a “unique experience” as it established a “solid and unique” female-only cultural protection network.
“This is the first time we’ve had a workshop of this kind in the world focused only for women in the military, where we had the opportunity to discuss issues related to the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict,” she said.
They also visited some of the relics and ruins, shared knowledge and enhanced their skills on current safeguarding mechanisms in place implemented by the Lebanese Armed Forces to better protect these relics.
For Lt. Col. Chen Lin, UNIFIL female peacekeeper from China, it was an opportunity to learn more on how to better protect cultural heritages. “As we know, Tyre is a very important UNESCO World Heritage site, and protection of civilians is part of UNIFIL mandate, and how to protect the heritage where civilians live is also very important for us,” she added.
In 2017 the UN Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2347, the first resolution to focus on cultural heritage and the importance of heritage protection for peace and security.
Earlier this year, UNIFIL partnered with Blue Shield International, an international organization with the mission to protect the world’s cultural heritage from conflicts and natural disasters, to better preserve cultural heritage in the Mission’s area of operations in south Lebanon.
As of October 2019, almost 6 per cent of UNIFIL’s more than 10,300 peacekeepers are women. The Mission’s female peacekeepers continue to play a vital role in conducting daily operational activities.