UNIFIL head Maj. Gen. Stefano Del Col (centre) with Mr. Karl von Habsburg (left), President of Blue Shield International, and Mr. Sarkis Khoury from the General Directorate of Antiquities of Lebanon, during the Blue Helmet Blue Shield forum in Tyre on 5 April 2019.
The Roman ruins, nestled by the sea in the south Lebanese city of Tyre, are breathtaking because they are so intact. The archeological structures are indicators of the habits and rituals of the people who lived here in the past, with the most noteworthy being the Roman baths, the two palaestrae, the arena and the Roman colonnade.
Last week experts from the Blue Shield International, an international organization with the mission to protect the world's cultural heritage from conflicts and natural disasters, joined UNIFIL peacekeepers and UNESCO, at a five-day forum to discuss ways to preserve heritage in south Lebanon.
Participants of the Blue Helmet Blue Shield forum listened intently as a historical specialist walked them around these ancient monuments. A series of workshops was held to raise the awareness of UNIFIL and the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) personnel of the importance of cultural property and why it should be safeguarded. Crucially the participants also included municipality staff and members of Tyre civil society to discuss how civil military cooperation (CIMIC) can enhance cultural property protection.
“In terms of conflict the first emergency we all agree on is human life,” cautions Joanne Farchakh Bajjaly, Manager of Biladi, a Lebanese NGO that specializes in heritage preservation. “This is absolute, there is nothing that can come before that.” However, in addition to post-conflict tasks such as reconstruction and humanitarian aid, she explains the Blue Helmet Blue Shield forum wants to include cultural heritage preservation on the to-do list. “It should just go into the spectrum of what to do in terms of an emergency. Never a priority, but it is on the list.”
As the group strolled through the ancient site, Svjetlana Jovic, from UNIFIL’s Civil Affairs office, explained that UNIFIL was chosen by Blue Shield International for the location for this training, because “this is the only UN peacekeeping mission with UNESCO world heritage sites in its area of operation.”
“The workshops were unique,” said Mr. Karl von Habsburg, President of Blue Shield International. This was due to the presence not only of UNIFIL military peacekeepers and civil affairs personnel, but also LAF and the civil society.
“It just gave an absolute amazing mix,” he enthused, “you had these specialists that really know the archeological sites, together with the soldiers and civil affairs.” Through a series of workshops and field visits the forum evaluated the importance of cultural heritage and provided concrete measures, through the drafting of a tailor-made action plan, on how to preserve the sites in south Lebanon. “Without the local community and without the local participants,” said Von Habsburg, “that would be completely impossible.”
Ms. Farchakh Bajjaly emphasized that UN Peacekeepers are well-placed to assist with the protection of cultural heritage sites in times of conflict, “because they are deployed after a conflict situation where heritage is always at risk. And, as we have seen in the late wars, heritage has been a main target.”
Background to the workshops:
In 2017 the UN Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2347, the first resolution to focus on cultural heritage and the importance of heritage protection for peace and security.
The Blue Helmet Blue Shield forum in Lebanon was organized in collaboration with Blue Shield International (an international organization working for the protection of heritage sites during times of war and natural disasters), UNIFIL, UNESCO Beirut and Biladi (a Lebanese NGO specializing on local heritage protection), the Lebanese Armed Forces, the Directorate General of Antiquities of Lebanon and the Municipality of Tyre.