Protecting Culture in Armed Conflict



The Green Party is strongly supportive of the Cultural Property (Protection in Armed Conflict) Bill. It is my experience that the destruction of significant cultural property of a people has a huge effect, often on the whole national psyche.

I think the problem goes even beyond what is in this bill. We can see the concern the Greek people have about the Elgin Marbles, and the fact that some of them have been taken to the British Museum. We can talk to Sri Lankan Tamil people, who feel they lost a huge cultural icon when the Jaffna Library was burnt down in the 1980s. We can look at the conflict in China involving the Uighur people, Muslim people in the west of China who have recently been in some contention with both the Chinese Government and Chinese migrants in the area. One of the deep hurts that the Uighur people feel—and it motivates them today—is what happened during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s. Young fanatical Maoists came in and destroyed much of the cultural property and Islamic icons in that area. The Tibetan people experienced the same thing with the destruction of some of the monasteries during the Cultural Revolution. It was deeply hurtful and is still felt today.

Chris Carter mentioned the example of Iraq, and I have wondered how Iraq might fit under this bill in the sense of culpability. In the mayhem following the US-led invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, US military camps were located in places like Babylon. Some camps were located on very important archaeological sites and destroyed them a bit. One could say that that destruction was part of armed conflict, but a lot of the damage was done by Iraqis who wanted to make a bit of money by coming in and grabbing stuff that had previously been protected. I suppose that under the clause about being an accessory after the fact any armed force there would be responsible. US commanders who allowed that to happen could possibly be deemed to be accessories after the fact under this bill.

Chris Carter also raised the example of Bamian. I am not sure how it would be covered under this bill, because, at the time, the war was over. The Taliban were ruling with an iron hand over the Hazara people and were very hostile to Buddhism. As part of the Taliban’s hostility towards anything that was not Islamic—or not their particular variety of Sunni Islam—they destroyed the Buddhas, which was a historic crime. I think that we all felt it, too, because those big Buddhas were such a cultural icon. But it was not done in the middle of armed conflict; it was done post – armed conflict, so I am not quite sure how it fits under the bill.

Although this bill is very good, it does not necessarily cover the complete range of offences against the cultural heritage of peoples around the world.

I think it is good that clause 9A has been put in, so that people who destroy major features of cultural heritage can be prosecuted for the horrendous thing they have done. If, for instance, the Bamian incident did fit under the bill, and if someone responsible for that offence against the Afghan people happened to be in New Zealand, that person could be prosecuted.

The Green Party is very supportive of this bill. It is a very progressive bill and we hope the whole Parliament will support it. Thank you.


House of Representatives