Cultural heritage is vulnerable. Composed of historic buildings, monuments and artefacts of artistic, historic, religious, scientific or technological importance, it contributes to national identities, but can be destroyed in military conflict. The value and rarity of many cultural artefacts exposes them to human greed: they are vulnerable – especially during times of conflict – to being illegally removed from archaeological sites, stolen from museums, trafficked and sold to private collections.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the International Council on Monuments and Sites, the World Customs Organization and the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) are all involved in the implementation of international conventions on cultural heritage, such as the 1954 Hague Convention and the 1972 UNESCO Convention. They also monitor compliance with the 1954 Convention’s Second Protocol protecting cultural heritage, and the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (Unidroit) Convention on trafficking of artefacts. The European Union contributes to these efforts, providing financial support to civil society and international organisations in this field, and organising specialised training courses, meetings, and networks for those involved in protecting EU cultural heritage. It condemns destruction and looting of cultural heritage, and prohibits illicit trade in cultural goods. The scale and brutality of cultural heritage destruction in Syria and Iraq calls for reflection on further measures to protect cultural heritage.