UNESCO making progress in the fight against illicit trafficking of Syrian cultural heritage

Francesco Bandarin, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture, speaking at the press briefing at UN Headquarters in New York © UN

5 February 2014, New York – At a press briefing at the United Nations in New York, UNESCO's Assistant Director-General for Culture, Francesco Bandarin, presented an overview of UNESCO's efforts to protect cultural heritage in Syria and other countries in the region of the Middle East and North Africa.

Addressing a group of international journalists, Mr Bandarin stated that the preservation of cultural property in Syria’s museums is ‘the only piece of good news’ adding that the majority of the cultural contents of 34 national museums have been transferred to safe havens, in a country ravaged by civil war since March 2011.

The Assistant Director-General for Culture also announced that the European Union has made a financial contribution of 2.5 million euros to UNESCO to set up a task force in Beirut to monitor and document the situation of cultural heritage in Syria (and for which UNESCO is taking steps to establish an observatory), to strengthen the fight against the trafficking of cultural property artifacts and to increase awareness of this scourge both locally and internationally.

In response to questions regarding the forthcoming premiere of the new Hollywood blockbuster, ‘The Monuments Men", a film focusing on the preservation of cultural heritage during the Second World War, Mr Bandarin expressed his hopes the film would raise global awareness on the illicit trade in cultural property that has increased during the more recent conflicts in Syria, Mali, Libya among other countries. He went on to say, "Sometimes Hollywood is more powerful than all the UN system put together in raising this attention."

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