On Cultural Heritage and Human Rights


Monday's seminar, 'On Cultural Heritage and Human Rights', was the convergence of two related events, both concerning the position of cultural heritage in our society and the role of law, including human rights, as one tool in understanding, preserving and protecting cultural heritage. 
This seems to be an increasingly significant and more difficult challenge, as we see the rise of actors like IS and other non-state actors who deliberately target cultural heritage to harm both the local community and the wider regional and global community. We have seen the destruction or damage of highly significant heritage sites at places such as Timbuktu in Mali and Palmyra in Syria and the looting of artefacts in Iraq and elsewhere. Yet often legal and policy responses seem inadequate to prevent or respond to such intentional harm.
The evening began with a screening of The Destruction of Memory, written and directed by Tim Slade. The film has so far received four festival awards and is being screened around the world. The film, which is based on a book of the same name by Robert Bevan, traces the story of the fight to protect cultural heritage. It looks not just at the present crisis in protection, but explores the decisions and actors of the past that have helped to bring this issue to the fore. Many of the most influential actors in the field are interviewed to highlight the significance of cultural heritage for us all. 
It was followed by the launch of a book edited by two colleagues from the Australian Human Rights Centre, Andrea Durbach and Lucas Lixinski. The book, entitled Heritage, Culture and Rights: Challenging Legal Discourses explores many of the themes raised in the film.
The book was launched by Annmaree O’Keeffe AM, a Nonresident Fellow at the Lowy Institute for International Policy. She is also a Research Associate with the ANU's Development Policy Centre.

Previously with Australia's former foreign aid agency, AusAID, from 1986 to 2009, her various positions included Ambassador for HIV/AIDS and Deputy Director General. She has served as Australia’s Ambassador to Nepal and was Minister-Counsellor for Development Assistance in Papua New Guinea. Before joining AusAID, Annmaree worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva. Annmaree is chair of Australia's national commission for UNESCO, a founding board member of the Asia Pacific Business Coalition for AIDS and the Chair of the Foundation for Development Cooperation. She is also a member of the advisory panel of the Pacific Friends of the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the Regional Rights Resource Team based in the Secretariat of the Pacific Community. She has an MA in Asian Studies from Griffith University and an undergraduate degree from University of Queensland in journalism and economics.


With thanks to Sarah Williams for the text above.

Photo: Sarah Williams, Lucas Lixinski, Annmaree O'Keeffe and Andrea Durbach. © Diane Macdonald