Although the Netherlands is not a signatory to the UNESCO Convention on Cultural Heritage, it has adopted its own definition of cultural heritage. It was adopted on 27 October 2005 and forms part of CETS No. 199. The definition is based on the notion of national treasures and ignores blind spots such as losses that pre-date the UNESCO Convention and the entitlement of communities to lost cultural objects. It also fails to recognize the shifting values of cultural objects.
The loss of a cultural object can be devastating. For instance, during the Timbuktu civil war, thousands of manuscripts were smuggled out. As a result, the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library has digitized these manuscripts to ensure that future generations can benefit from them.
Religious convictions have a major impact on the evolution of culture. The influence of religion is often so pervasive that it can even be a catalyst for the creation of cultural expression. Art is often a manifestation of religious worship and is often commissioned by religious institutions. Examples of commissioned art include the intricate geometric designs of Islamic mosques and the dazzling stained glass windows of Gothic cathedrals. These works represent a specific artisan knowledge and become iconic religious legacies.
The UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (CPDCE) adopted in 2005 outlined that cultural diversity contributes to a rich and varied world. It fosters human values and capacities and is essential for the sustainable development of societies. It also provides a basis for the realization of human rights.
While the term ‘destroying cultural heritage’ is not defined clearly, it is nonetheless an infringement of international humanitarian law and human rights. As such, it is important to note that the UNHRC Resolution (6/11) on protection of cultural heritage was adopted on 28 September 2007. Furthermore, the UNESCO Declaration on intentional destruction of cultural heritage was adopted on 17 October 2003. The UNSC Resolutions on cultural heritage also contain references to this issue.
The ICCPR recognizes the right of minorities to their own culture, religion and language. Article 27 of the ICCPR explicitly mentions culture. Furthermore, Article 1 of the ICESCR guarantees the right to self-determination to peoples of all ethnic groups. The right to self-determination is the right of all.
The UNDRIP addresses a variety of rights, including the right to access culture. This is particularly relevant for the loss of cultural objects by indigenous peoples. This right extends to the right to property. Moreover, UNDRIP addresses the rights of the dispossessed former owners. This right should be a basis for acquiring title to cultural heritage.
The UNESCO Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has been adopted in 2007. It recognizes the right of indigenous communities to use their cultural heritage. Besides, the UNIDROIT Convention is another important document that recognizes their rights.