Director-General opens Conference for Safeguarding Cultural Heritage in Conflict Areas in Abu Dhabi
On 2 December, UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, participated in the opening of the international conference aimed at safeguarding and preserving the endangered cultural heritage of humanity from the destructive results of armed conflicts. The conference, under the patronage of UNESCO, is taking place today and tomorrow in Abu Dhabi.
The first day of the two-day conference began with an opening speech from His Excellency Mohammed Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority, who spoke about the importance of collaborating with France and the international community to tackle the challenge of protecting heritage and create tangible impact. This was followed by a commentary from Jack Lang, President of Institut du Monde Arabe, who commended the UAE on its efforts to date and the role it has played in uniting key players from around the world, as well as emphasising the need for urgent action. The introductions were closed by a presentation of existing international initiatives by the Director-General who noted that the conference would reinforce international efforts to prevent, to respond and to rehabilitate heritage after destruction, and was a testimony of the power of culture to unite.
The Director-General underscored the urgency in taking action: "The cultural cleansing we have seen in the Middle East has affected people everywhere, and UNESCO is fully mobilized, catalyzing a global movement for heritage. Together we are building a new cultural landscape, a new approach to protect culture for peace and security. The protection of heritage cannot be delinked from the protection of human life, and it cannot wait.”
Speaking at the opening, His Excellency Mohammed Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority said: “Heritage, in all its diversity, is a source of collective wealth and encourages dialogue. It is a vehicle for closer relations, tolerance and freedom. In an armed conflict situation, heritage is particularly at risk, owing to its inherent vulnerability and tremendous symbolic value. It is encouraging to see so many of us converge and collaborate today to develop tangible goals to safeguard this heritage.”
Jack Lang, President of Institut du Monde Arabe added: “The UAE and France share a deep-rooted relationship and mutual understanding that spans across economic, political and cultural ties. Both countries view culture and heritage as the cornerstones of nation-building and we see our respective countries as ideal partners and leaders in preventing the eradication of heritage during times of conflict. We are short on time; the problems are immense. It is time to mobilise international forces and public actors in this field to lead the safeguarding and rehabilitation of cultural heritage sites threatened by war and terrorism. The UAE is a role model in this field and has paved the way towards devising and implementing actionable solutions and I would like to thank them for spearheading this initiative.”
Participants include high level state representatives, public and private institutions and private donors engaged in the field of cultural heritage as well experts working in the field. The conference is structured into several panel discussions between cultural heritage experts. These presentations and discussions gave first-hand accounts of the successes and challenges in overcoming these difficult situations and set the stage for further discussions of the proposed strategies of the global initiative proposed by UAE and France.
The global event, organised by the governments of the UAE and France, has brought together over 40 countries within the international community, affected by and concerned with heritage loss due to conflict, alongside key players involved in the field of world heritage preservation. It supports UNESCO’s global mandate to protect cultural heritage during armed conflicts and aims to define and achieve practical and sustainable means to effectively safeguard cultural resources as well as create a network of safe havens for threatened heritage.
The conference will continue tomorrow with a focus on presenting the objectives and proposed outcomes of the initiative. It will conclude with the adoption of the Abu Dhabi Declaration, a solemn statement confirming the commitment of all those present to support the protection of endangered cultural heritage in conflict zones, and their resolve to support the establishment of a foundation for this purpose and the creation of a network of safe havens.
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