27.03.2013 - UNESCO Office in Amman

UNESCO’s response to Syria: a plan of action to safeguard the country’s cultural heritage


An action plan to address the situation of cultural heritage in Syria was developed as a result of the UNESCO Regional Training on Syrian Cultural Heritage, held in Amman in February 2013 that addressed the issue of illicit trafficking of Syrian cultural artifacts.

As a part of UNESCO’s response to the current Syrian crisis, the UNESCO Amman Office and the UNESCO Cultural Heritage Protection Treaties Section organized a four-day regional training in Amman to assess the situation of illicit trafficking of Syrian cultural heritage and to promote regional and global cooperation. The initiative brought together the police, customs and heritage departments of Syria and its neighboring countries, international organizations involved in cultural heritage management and protection, international experts in Syrian archaeology and law enforcement agencies from Switzerland, Italy, France, Germany, United Kingdom and the United States.

As a result of the training, a Plan of Action was developed by the participants to foster the protection of museums and archaeological sites from looting, prevent illicit trafficking, improve restitutions to Syria and ensure follow-up of activities. The Plan represents a collective and targeted response to the safeguarding of Syria’s unique heritage and the fight against illicit trafficking of its cultural objects.

Developed under two scenarios, the first to address the present situation in Syria through a short term strategy and the second focusing on recovery through a longer term framework, the Action Plan focuses on advocacy, capacity building and awareness-raising on behalf of all the major stakeholders – including the Syrian authorities and Syria’s neighboring countries – for improved regional and international cooperation:

Advocacy: actions aimed to advocate for continued and enhanced protection of Syrian cultural heritage at the national and international level, including:

  • advocacy for the continual and enhanced support of the Syrian Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM),
  • advocacy with the military for the avoidance of using major heritage sites for military purposes in accordance with the 1954 Hague Convention,
  • advocacy with the UN Security Council and UNESCO Member States on the importance of safeguarding cultural heritage in Syria,
  • working with international archaeological missions in Syria and major museums, archives and libraries hosting Syrian artifacts to highlight the value of those collections and develop special public messages.

Standard setting: actions aimed to establish a series of standard measures to prevent the risk of illicit trafficking and ensure the safeguard of Syrian cultural heritage, such as:

  • encouraging ratification and compliance with international conventions,
  • working with various Departments of Antiquities in neighboring countries to devise bilateral agreements for the restitution of cultural property,
  • providing INTERPOL with information on missing objects,
  • promoting increased regional and international cooperation on prevention and restitution.

Capacity building: actions aimed to build the capacities of Syrian authorities and those of neighbouring countries in safeguarding Syrian cultural heritage, with special regard to the police and customs departments, and the antiquities departments, such as:

  • prepare and implement trainings for border and customs personnel in Syria and its neighboring countries,
  • organize trainings by INTERPOL, World Customs Organization, International Council of Museums, International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property and the International Council on Monuments and Sites for police and customs officers of Syria and neighboring countries,
  • train Red Cross, Red Crescent and UN staff in Syria to use site and monument evaluation forms so they can report on the condition of cultural heritage.

Awareness-raising: actions aimed to raise awareness at the regional and international level on the importance of Syrian cultural heritage and its current risks, such as:

  • producing and distributing awareness-raising materials (documentary, press releases, brochure, exhibition, lectures) to relevant parties,
  • developing a media strategy, including social media, to share and encourage sharing information about Syrian cultural heritage,
  • completing and circulating the Emergency Red List of Syrian objects at risk,
  • preparing an open letter in support of the efforts of the DGAM to be signed by the archaeological community,
  • disseminating to all responsible parties information about the penal consequences of intentional destruction of cultural property.

Click here to download the final report on the event and the Plan of Action.

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