Cultural Heritage in Armed Conflict: Strategic Perspectives

Stream: Panel 32 - International Relations: Syria
Date: Tuesday, 27 September 2016
Time: 11.30 am – 1.00 pm


The progressive destruction of cultural heritage in Syria and Iraq has raised many questions regarding moral and legal responsibility (Office of Director General, UNESCO, 2016). International law broadly defines cultural heritage as having “outstanding universal value”, yet in practice, the value of these heritage sites is fragmented by complex ethnic and religious geographies (Aghlani, 2016). From the destruction of the Sarajevo National Library in 1992 during the Bosnian War to the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddas in 2001 by the Taleban, cultural heritage sites contain multidimensional strategic advantages (Kila, 2015). During the British Chilcot Inquiry following the Iraq war, heritage agencies documented that “[in] failing to provide for the protection of cultural property, Coalition planners made it considerably more difficult for troops on the ground to win hearts and minds” (Andrews, 2016). In today’s landscape of asymmetric conflict, destruction of this property continues to pose a range of challenges connected to the complex issues of identity, community, and human rights. How can the manipulation of cultural heritage sites by non-state armed groups be understood? Building on parliamentary research conducted in the British House of Lords, this paper isolates spatial trends in the destruction across Syria. Utilising geo-spatial mapping and geographic information system analysis, this research examines interoperability strategies regarding the protection of cultural heritage sites, with attendant implications for defence policy and critical perspectives in international relations.


Eleanor Williams (Presenter), University of Sydney
Eleanor Williams is a recent graduate of The University of Sydney where she completed her Masters dissertation by providing a neo-classical realist reading of Australia's foreign policy towards Timor-Leste from 1974-79. As a researcher, her focus rests on interdisciplinary questions of international law, history, and foreign policy. She has worked in Westminster as a summer researcher in the House of Lords, providing policy research on British ratification of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. Her interests range from sovereignty and security to the law of armed conflict.