UN agencies advance protection of antiquities, cultural heritage

By AT editor - 25 March 2017 at 3:46 am
UN agencies advance protection of antiquities, cultural heritage

The United Nations Security Council has moved to strengthen protections against the destruction and trafficking of priceless antiquities and humanity’s shared cultural heritage.

Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO – the United Nations entity that helps to protect cultural sites across the globe – hailed the adoption of a new resolution that advances international cooperation, and acknowledges the link between the destruction of antiquities in Mali or Syria, and conditions that in some circumstances are considered war crimes.

“The destruction of landmarks such as the Buddhas of Bamiyan, the Roman monuments in Palmyra, or shrines and mosques in Tikrit and Mosul are reprehensible attempts to erase history,” added Yury Fedotov, the executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

That was the case for Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, an ethnic Tuareg and then-member of the al-Qaeda affiliated Ansar Dine, who was charged by the International Criminal Court with directing attacks on 10 buildings in Mali.

They included Sidi Yahia in Timbuktu, a 15th-century mosque listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site that was extensively repaired and restored. The case was a historic first, and underscored the commitment to protecting communities in conflict from the “cultural cleansing” that attacks on art and architecture often represent.

“This is why defending cultural heritage is more than a cultural issue, it is a security imperative, inseparable from that of defending human lives,” Bokova told the Security Council, in a briefing that also was a historic first for UNESCO.

In 2015, the Security Council adopted Resolution 2199 to prohibit trafficking in cultural objects from Syria and Iraq. The measure has helped to cut off funding from extremist groups selling looted property.

Image: UNESCO

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