At the start of the battle for Mosul, UNESCO Director-General declares protection of heritage and human lives are inseparable
Monday 17 October – As the Government of Iraq has announced the launch of a major offensive on Mosul, I wish to reiterate UNESCO’s support to the population of Mosul, women, men and children who have suffered from violence and persecution over the past years, and who still are suffering. Nineveh (Mosul) is also one of the oldest cities of Mesopotamia, whose memory has been transmitted for centuries by people of all origins and all religions as a world symbol of dialogue between cultures and a medium of identity and memory for the Iraqi people. I call on all involved in military action to protect cultural heritage and refrain from any military use or targeting of cultural sites and monuments, in respect of obligations under international treaties.
The protection of heritage is not a luxury, but a core obligation of customary international humanitarian law and the law of war, in respect of the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two Protocols, as well as the 1972 World Heritage Convention. UNESCO has shared with all Member States involved precise coordinates of cultural sites of significance in the area of Mosul, and stands ready to provide assistance, within its mandate, to enhance the protection of cultural heritage both during and after military operations. This effort is inseparable from the protection of human lives, and must be an integral part of any sustainable and effective strategy for peace. Iraqi citizens have protected their heritage, risking their lives, and the international community has a duty to respond and make the most of heritage as a force for dignity and a better future.
The conflict in Iraq and the cultural cleansing led by violent extremist armed groups over the past years have shown that the protection of cultural heritage cannot be delinked from the protection of human lives. Cultural heritage has been a primary target of war, used as a tactic of violence, to tear at the fabric of society and harm people over the very long term. The demolition of the Mosul Museum and the destruction of archeological remains in Nineveh will remain in human history as one of the most barbaric attacks against the heritage of humanity. These crimes must not remain unpunished. Iraqi culture has suffered too much for too long, with severe consequences for stability, social cohesion and peace in the region and worldwide.
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