Standing with President Hollande, Vice-President Biden, to defend Cultural Heritage
On 20 September, UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, participated in an event organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the MET) and the United States Department of State on “Today’s Struggle to Protect and Preserve the Cultural Heritage of Religious Minorities.”
This included a keynote speech by French President, François Hollande, US Vice President Joe Biden, introduced by Deputy Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, in the presence of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
The event was held at the MET in New York, and included interventions by the Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, Evan Ryan, and led by Thomas P Cambell, Director of the MET.
Vice President Biden made a powerful appeal on the importance of cultural heritage to all women and men.
"The drive to build, the drive to sanctify traditions is what makes us human, and this is why defending cultural heritage is defending all humanity," said the Vice President.
President Hollande spoke about his personal commitment to defend humanity's shared heritage. This is the incentive for building a new global coalition, drawing on UNESCO's experience and on existing conventions, and crafting new mechanisms -- to prevent, to intervene in emergencies, and to rehabilitate and restore, supported by a new fund. He referred specifically to the forthcoming conference in Abu Dhabi to launch this initiative in December.
"All this is about defending our shared history to build humanity together," said President Hollande.
The UNESCO Director-General spoke of the need to act in partnership and with resolution.
“Cultural heritage of religious interest is on the frontline of new conflicts fueled by violent extremist ideologies,” said Irina Bokova.
“This deliberate destruction is a war crime, and it has become a tactic of war to spread fear and hatred.”
Assistant Secretary Ryan spoke of the importance to "sound the alarm on heritage in peril."
“This destruction cannot be delinked from the persecution of individuals and minorities on cultural and religious grounds,” said Irina Bokova.
“This is not about protecting stones, but defending human rights, defending the humanity we all share.”
The Director-General underlined UNESCO’s leading action in this area, including by rebuilding 14 mausoleums destroyed by violent extremists in Timbuktu, Mali, and a deepening partnership with the International Criminal Court, to end impunity for such crimes.
She pointed to the UNESCO 1970 Convention against illicit trafficking as a foundation on which to build.
This was followed by a panel discussion, moderated by Knox Thames, US Special Advisor for Religious Minorities in the Near East and South and Central Asia -- including Lise Ackerman, World Monuments Fund, Zainab Bahrani, Columbia University, Elizabeth Bolman, Temple University, and Christina Maranci, Tufts University.
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