Blog # 9- The ethics of collecting and preserving cultural property

The two articles, Unesco’s Rehabilitation of Afghanistan’s Cultural heritage: Mandate and Recent Activities by Christian Manhart and Afghan Cultural Heritage and International Law: The case of the Buddhas of Bamiyan by Francesco Francioni and Federico Lenzerini both deal with the aftermath of the incident of the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in March of 2001 by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in defiance against the UN’s as well as other nation states’ appeals to preserve them. Although both these articles focus on two very different aspects derived from the same incident, which is the destruction of the invaluable Buddhas, they both express significant concern over the preservation of the rich pre-Islamic cultural heritage of Afghanistan.

The first article by Manhart explicitly deals with the United Nation’s efforts at preserving the pre-Islamic relics mainly from the Buddhist era in Afghanistan through their sister concern, UNESCO. UNESCO’s activities mainly involve the renovation and revitalization of the Kabul Museum which houses many of these ancient invaluable relics. They have invested a significant amount of funds in restoring the dilapidated museum, training curators on handling the artefacts, restoring and appropriately housing the artefacts in the museum etc. In addition, UNESCO has also initiated preservation projects of the ancient cave-sites of Bamiyan, Jam and Herat by enacting safe protection measures from the harsh weather of Afghanistan. Also, other nations such as the Netherlands, the United States, France etc. have all made significant donations to the UNESCO efforts, demonstrating the huge international concern over Afghanistan’s cultural heritage.

The second article by Francioni and Lenzerini deals with the legal aspects of the incident of the deliberate destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan by the Taliban government. The authors quite clearly feel quite strongly about the incident, explicitly voicing their opinion that the incident should not go unpunished even going as far as to say that the destruction of the Buddhas were a ‘crime against the all of humankind’.  They bring to light certain passages of the civil code set by the United Nations, concerning the destruction of cultural and religious property, implying that the Talibans had perpetrated a crime considerable enough to be called into question by the United Nations tribunal. The authors went to great lengths to justify their strong condemnation of the incident taking it as far as calling the incident, ‘an attack on the minority religions’ right to practice’.  Although, the article in question was clouded by the authors’ very one-sided and biased opinion and views, they do manage to make some very good points on the issue. They encourage the international community to take notice of the fact that no nation or power should have the right to destroy as they please heritage which universally applies to everyone. The Buddhas of Bamiyan were not simply Afghanistan’s cultural heritage they were the heritage of the cultural exchange which occurred in that region during the peak of the Silk Road’s relevance. The authors brought to light that it was simply not ok for ruling parties to decide to destroy historical ancient monuments which simply do not fit their religious principles. There should be a certain degree of respect for other cultures, especially if they were cultures which preceded their own in the region.