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  • Abhirup Som

Cultural Property

Cultural property does not have a universal definition, but it is commonly considered to be tangible items that are part of the cultural heritage of a group or society, as opposed to less tangible cultural expressions. They include items such as cultural landscapes, historic buildings, works of art, archaeological sites, as well as collections of libraries, archives and museums.

The preservation of cultural heritage can assist in rebuilding a society in the aftermath of conflict and in some cases it can be essential for economic revival, security and stability. In our own times, the intentional destruction of cultural heritage has been part of systematic campaigns by some state and non-state actors to destroy a group and its history. Culture is an intrinsic part of what constitutes group identity and therefore, an attack on cultural heritage can consequently be an attack on a national, ethnic, racial or religious group’s right to exist. In the wake of the destruction caused by the second world war which led to widespread cultural destruction, the 1954 convention for the protection of cultural property due to armed conflict was adopted. 133 member states of the 193 UN members are currently signatories to the 1954 convention. The deliberate destruction of cultural property is also considered a war crime in the Rome Statute of International Criminal Court. On 24 March 2017 the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2347, deploring the systematic destruction of cultural heritage sites, the smuggling of cultural property, and related offences. This was the first Security Council resolution to directly address the issue of the protection of cultural heritage in armed conflict.

Destruction of cultural heritage and commission of mass atrocity crimes has a link and should be included in considerations for prevention of genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Mass atrocity crimes are usually perpetrated against an identified population which have similar characteristics like ethnicity, linguistic community. Deliberate destruction of cultural heritage is often connected to deliberate strategy to commit mass atrocity crimes. Systematic destruction of cultural heritage often aims at destroying the target groups history and symbols undermining their cultural continuity.

Cultural property is a part of the common heritage of humanity. It is unique and important being a witness to the evolution of society and the lives of people. Organised criminal groups are increasingly involved in trafficking in cultural property through legitimate markets like auctions and the internet and underground illicit markets. Trafficking in cultural property is also becoming an important source for the laundering of the proceeds of crime, and has been recently identified as a possible source of financing for terrorist groups. Trafficking in cultural property involves several acts that may ultimately result in the loss, destruction, removal or theft of irreplaceable items. While criminals make significant profits from this illicit trafficking, humankind is denied access to archaeological information and to artefacts of its shared heritage. For instance, many relics and monuments from past generations remain buried underground. Where ancient artefacts are stolen and the sites in which they were hidden are destroyed through looting, archaeologists are unable to gather knowledge about the past. A substantial amount of looting happens around the world and so far the efforts to combat trafficking in cultural property have not been in proportion to the gravity and extent of this criminal manifestation

Cultural property should be preserved forever so as to serve as a memory of the past for future generations. There needs to be more laws in all countries to prevent the loss of these cultural properties.


“Protecting Cultural Heritage.” Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, 13 Oct. 2022,

“Trafficking in Cultural Property.” United Nations : Office on Drugs and Crime,

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