21.04.2017 - New York Office

Archaeologists and cultural heritage managers call for increase protection of cultural heritage


New York, 19 April 2017: UNESCO joined the discussion with professor Zahi Hawass on the protection of endangered cultural heritage in times of conflict, organized by the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations and the International Federation for Peace and Sustainable Development (IFPSD).

The event focused on the importance of safeguarding endangered cultural heritage during times of conflict and the importance of education. It brought together representatives of member states, UN agencies, cultural heritage managers and civil society. 

Never before in recent history the international community has seen such brutal and systematic destruction of cultural heritage used as a war tactic to intimidate populations and erase their identity. The international community is establishing means to protect the endangered cultural heritage as with Resolution 2199 and Resolution 2347 (March 2017) adopted by the Security Council and the capacity to punish the destruction of cultural heritage through the International Criminal Court that, first ever in the history, judged cultural destruction of mausoleum in Timbuktu as a war crime (Al Mahdi Case).

The keynote speaker Dr. Zahi Hawass, world-renowned archaeologist, emphasized the importance of site management and the need to be more active to better protect cultural heritage. He called the attention on the crucial importance to have a database to catalogue the objects the museums have and to support the development of capacity building to restore destructed monuments. He passionately illustrated all the numerous discoveries he and his team has made, especially those in the Egyptian pyramids, emphasizing the link between culture, history and identity. He said that too often culture is victim of destruction by terroristic attacks looking for new forms of enrichment for violent use as in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya, where cultural heritage continue to be threatened.

Quoting Pope Francis H.E. Archbishop Bernardito C. Auza, Permanent Representative of the Holy See to the United Nations, emphasized that the need to protect the endangered patrimony is dramatically current and its protection is a crucial step in the process of implementation of human rights. Humanity needs to combat the current dramatic destruction in places as Palmira, Timbuktu and Mosul. He emphasized how such terroristic attacks are attempts to destroy the cultural, educational and religious environment that are an essential part of human identities. The destruction of cultural heritage has recently become one of the top five global crimes but much more need to be done to effectively stop the destruction. In this context, the cooperation between UNESCO and the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) is fundamental to end the destruction and the illicit trafficking of cultural heritage.

Ms. Lily Gray from UNESCO New York stressed the importance of the protection of cultural heritage as a security imperative. Until few years ago the destruction of heritage was perceived as secondary but now its protection is at the top of the political agenda and the international community has established new tools under the stipulation of UN Security Council S/RES/2199 and S/RES/2347. The examples of the Second World War and the most recent cases of Bosnia Herzegovina and Afghanistan show that the destruction of cultural heritage is not a new phenomenon, however, nowadays it is happening at a scale and at a speed never seen before and it is displayed globally through social media. These new phenomena require an update in our response. In the last years UNESCO have worked very hard to raise awareness about the importance of heritage and the need to impose its destruction as a war crime. She mentioned the #Unite4Heritage movement that was launched in March 2015 in response to the unprecedented attacks on heritage. #Unite4Heritage is a global movement powered by UNESCO that aims to safeguard natural and cultural heritage and celebrate cultural diversity around the world. Currently UNESCO is expanding this movement for 2017-2018 on a global level, and reinforcing the digital impact while developing events and partnership-based visibility.

In conclusion, she reiterated the importance to strengthen the cooperation between member states, UN agencies and other relevant stakeholders such as INTERPOL in improving the legislation of states and the sharing of data in countering illicit trafficking of cultural property.

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