The Sharjah Initiative - Regional Symposium on the Protection of Cultural Heritage in Times of Crisis Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, June 2012
13 June. Recent social and political upheaval in parts of the Arab region have damaged and threatened cultural heritage resources. Thus, the newly established Sharjah-ICCROM ATHAR Regional Conservation Centre hosted an international symposium on Protection of Cultural Heritage in Times of Crisis, the first of its kind in the region.
The objective was to develop an Arab regional framework to guide national policies for heritage protection in relation to emergency planning, infrastructure, law and public awareness.
During three days of intensive deliberations in Sharjah, from 22 to 24 May 2012, specialist participants representing 12 Arab countries together with international organizations and other experts working in this field, addressed the following critical issues:
Types of cultural heritage that have been most vulnerable, threatened or damaged;
Weaknesses in current heritage protection systems including legislation, inadequate records, lack of manpower, emergency preparedness and physical protection;
Roles to be played by governmental and non-governmental organizations to minimize damage to cultural heritage; and
Opportunities that cultural heritage and its protection can provide for recovery and reconciliation.
The participants expressed their gratitude for this significant and timely initiative, under the patronage of His Highness the Ruler of Sharjah, Dr. Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, and agreed on the following actions to be led by the Sharjah-ICCROM Regional ATHAR Conservation Centre, to:
Review existing national laws and assist to develop model legislations on the conservation of cultural heritage in the region, and most importantly, to include provisions for emergency planning;
Develop guiding principles for the Arab region in relation to relevant international conventions, especially where countries may not yet be signatories to them;
Recommend and advise on the establishment of mandatory GIS-based inventories of all cultural assets on a national basis;
Conduct courses and training modules for risk preparedness, assessment and emergency planning, to provide the means to protect cultural heritage in times of crisis; and
Disseminate and publish the symposium proceedings together with other relevant material to governments and other cultural organizations in all member states.
B.Sharjah Initiative (Brief Conclusions)
The meeting participants proposed the following overarching principles as part of an Arab States comprehensive framework addressing cultural heritage in times of crisis*:
Call upon all governments and parties to conflict to respect and observe the Hague Convention and its protocols as well as other relevant international conventions and regional declarations during these transitional times.**
Encourage and amplify efforts to document and develop national inventories of all cultural assets, ideally using GIS, starting at the local and district levels. Such inventories need to be compatible in order to ultimately develop a regional database covering both movable and immovable heritage.
Survey and document at the local level the impact of conflict and political transition on the cultural heritage of the region. Where possible, such surveys should be shared nationally and regionally in order to develop a comprehensive inventory of damaged and lost heritage assets.
Undertake a detailed conflict and risk assessment with the aim of establishing potential direct and indirect impacts of crisis on cultural heritage. The assessment should address the three inter-related areas of increased conservation and protection needs, reduced capacities to respond and changes in the operational institutional context.
Develop local and national risk reduction, preparedness and emergency response plans, starting with cultural heritage assets of high value that are at high risk.
Pilot response and recovery initiatives, and monitor them carefully in order to learn lessons that can be utilized in scaling up interventions.
Build capacity of professionals, and where appropriate representatives of local communities, to assess, prepare for and respond after crisis at all levels in a multidisciplinary approach. In addition to heritage management, capacities are required in areas of conflict analysis, risk assessment, impact analysis, and recovery planning and management.
Ensure effective participation of communities and local decision-makers as well as other humanitarian and development actors in the protection of cultural heritage in times of crisis as well as in devising emergency response plans.
Establish national institutional frameworks for effective crisis response in partnership with relevant regional and international agencies.
* For the purpose of this initiative Cultural Heritage is referred to as defined in the Hague Convention.