The rights to take part in cultural life, and to practise religion and belief are protected human rights. They entail an obligation to preserve cultural heritage and places of worship, including the safeguarding of artefacts of historical, cultural, religious or spiritual significance. Artefacts of this kind, such as archaeological or spiritual sites or religious monuments, may embody thousands of years of culture or history. Their destruction can have wide‑ranging and severe impacts on communities; in particular, minority communities for which they may have special significance. Such destruction can extinguish sources of history and irremediably disrupt the rights and abilities of communities to practise their culture, religion or spirituality.
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples 2007 protects Indigenous Peoples’ rights to maintain and protect ‘archaeological and historical sites’ and ‘artefacts’ that are ‘manifestations of their cultures’ (Article 11), and rights of access to their religious and cultural sites (Article 12). Additionally, numerous other international instruments oblige the preservation of global cultural heritage, such as the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage 1972, and the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage 2003.