10.02.2013 - UNESCO Office in Amman

Regional training in Amman to address the illicit trafficking of cultural heritage in Syria

© INTERPOL\Stolen mosaic from Hama

As part of UNESCO’s action in response to the current Syrian crisis, the Amman Office has organized a four-day regional training workshop, from the 10th to 13th of February 2013, to promote awareness and cooperation to prevent the illicit trafficking of Syrian cultural property and to promote regional cooperation. This initiative is part of a broader range of measures that UNESCO is undertaking in its fields of competence to respond to the Syrian crisis, including addressing the needs of Syrian refugees in the region.

Under the patronage of HRH Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan and with the support of the Swiss Federal Office for Culture, the initiative brings together representatives of customs and heritage departments from Syria and neighboring countries as well as international experts from countries such as Switzerland, Italy, France, Germany and the United States to discuss the situation of the illicit traffic and the looting of cultural artifacts of Syria. The training draws on the experience gained by UNESCO in other conflict and post-conflict situations, such as Iraq, and Afghanistan in order to propose actions to address the current threats of illicit trafficking of Syrian cultural property.

“For UNESCO, respect for culture is an integral part of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. We must join efforts to safeguard and protect Syrian cultural heritage,” declared the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, in her recent statements on the situation of cultural heritage in Syria, building on the statements by the joint UN-Arab League Special Envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi. The Director-General also reminded all concerned parties that “they shall be held accountable not only for the tragic loss of human lives but also for the loss of the inestimable testimonies of Syria’s past history and legacy to the world’s civilization.”

“We must focus on the importance of museums and archives as repositories of shared knowledge for a nation,” said HRH Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan in a keynote speech to delegates attending the opening of the event. “These should be protected by populations and combatants as sanctuaries and shared spaces and must be elevated above politics and conflict.” HRH added that “setting a global context for challenges faced by cultural heritage in times of conflict, war and catastrophic events was essential to ensuring that the heritage of afflicted nations was safeguarded for future generations. Protection of culture was a vital part of protecting people in crisis as it provides them with invaluable resources to rebuild communities and restore links when conflict ends.”

The current situation of cultural property in Syria raises serious concerns as many historical and archaeological sites, among them UNESCO World Heritage Sites and sites in the World Heritage Tentative List, have been affected by armed conflict. The looting of several archaeological sites and museums has also been reported by various sources.

“In order to build and maintain long-term peace, it is crucial to safeguard people’s cultural identity and history, which are the foundations of the national unity of Syria. UNESCO, as a specialized organization of the United Nations System, is deeply committed to helping protect Syrian cultural heritage by strengthening regional and international cooperation to fight against illicit trafficking,” said UNESCO’s Head of Office in Amman, Anna Paolini.

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