KATHMANDU: The hands of the watches had frozen at 8:15. This is one of the eerie memorabilia
in the Hiroshima museum capturing the time when the atom bomb went off on that fateful August 6, 1945. Initially Hiroshima was not the first on the list, it was Kyoto. It is said, how-ever, that it was removed from the list by the US Secretary of War, Henry L Stimson, because he had spent his honeymoon in Kyoto and respected the cultural significance of the historic city.
The UNESCO Constitution begins with an inspiring statement: “That since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.” A literal response to this was the formulation of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its Protocols. Nepal is in the process of ratifying this convention. It would be opportune to refer to some of the eloquently written statements in the introduction to the convention.
“Recognising that cultural property has suffered grave damage during recent armed conflicts and that, by reason of the developments in the technique of warfare, it is in increasing danger of destruction.” As new and more destructive weapons are created, the chances of indiscriminate devastation have grown. The atom bomb obliterated Hiro-shima. Will smart bombs only hit military targets?
“Being convinced that damage to cultural property belonging to any people whatsoever means damage to the cultural heritage of all mankind, since each people makes its contribution to the culture of the world.” In March 2001, the Bamian Buddhas were destroyed by fanatics who politicised the religious symbolism of these historic works of art. The global community will respond to such crass offence since “their destruction lead to an irretrievable loss for humanity”.
“Considering that the preservation of the cultural heritage is of great importance for all peoples of the world and that it is important this heritage should receive international protection.” There are examples such as the bridge at Mostar that was destroyed in November 1993 and was reconstructed over the following decade through international support. Much the same response has been provided for the Bamian Buddhas, even though these are but symbolic gestures after the loss of the authentic tangible heritage.
“Being of the opinion that such protection cannot be effective unless both national and inter-national measures have been taken to organise it in time of peace.” All safeguarding measures must be put in place before the conflict; hopefully to mitigate the disasters from occurring. How-ever, once the conflict is underway, there is only the hope that all parties have the decency, awareness and courage to respect heritage. During the Iraq war in 2003, the national archives in Baghdad were destroyed and much of the content lost. Decades of internal conflict in Cambodia impacted the conservation of Angkor, which today finds itself in the hands
of an exemplary management system with global support.
However, a cross-border conflict has recently flared over the Preah Vihear monuments. In the news, we also see the recent destruction in Mali of the exquisite heritage in Timbuktu. We see the bombing of Aleppo in Syria.
Are we “determined to take all possible steps to protect cultural property”? Do we agree upon the provisions in the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its Protocols? Not long ago, Nepal also lost cultural heritage properties in an armed conflict. The Tansen
Durbar, the Silkhan and the Baggi Dhoka had historical significance along with its importance to the identity of the town. These monuments were burnt to the ground. We must ascertain that such
conscious destruction of heritage should never take place again.
(The author is an architect and can be contacted through firstname.lastname@example.org)