UN community rallies around new global initiative to counter the destruction and trafficking of cultural property

28 September 2015

UNITED NATIONS –  On 27 September under the impulse of Foreign Ministers of Italy and Jordan, with the support of UNESCO and Interpol, Members States in the UN launched a global initiative to enhance the protection of cultural heritage targeted by terrorists and illicit traffickers was launched at the United Nations by Jordan and Italy, supported by UNESCO, INTERPOL and UNODC.

The Director-General participated at the launch of the “Protecting Cultural Heritage—An Imperative for Humanity” initiative at the United Nations headquarters in New York,  that included leaders from Jordan, Italy, the EU, Greece, Iraq, Mali, Guatemala, Cyprus, Serbia,  as well as the President of  INTERPOL and the Executive Director of UNODC.

The main goal of the initiative is to follow up on resolutions and decisions adopted by the UN Security Council, the UN General Assembly and other international  organisations.

Advocating for increased political commitment, Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO said, “Culture is on the frontline of conflict – we must place it at the heart of peacebuilding”.

Rallying partners to enhance the protection of cultural heritage, Paolo Gentiloni, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy, said: “Cultural heritage is a reflection of human history, civilization and the coexistence of multiple peoples and their ways of life. Its protection is a shared responsibility of the international community, in the interest of future generations.”

“The religious and cultural heritage of the Middle East, the birthplace of civilization and religions, belongs to all humanity,” said Nasser Judeh, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Jordan, who appealed to the high-level participants to “protect and preserve it as it is the collective responsibility of the international community.”

The Executive Director of UNODC, Yury Fedotov emphasized the importance of joining efforts in addressing the issue of the trafficking  and the destruction of cultural property as ‘crimes that strike at the very core of our civilization and heritage”

President of INTERPOL, the world’s largest police organization, Mireille Ballestrazzi stressed the need “to combine our efforts and resources to efficiently curb this criminal phenomenon and protect the world’s cultural heritage for future generations”.

Throughout the last decade, the world has witnessed a sharp increase in terrorist attacks on, and destruction of, the cultural heritage of countries affected by armed conflict. Organized looting, illicit trafficking and sale of cultural objects has reached an unprecedented scale.

Terrorist groups are using these acts as a tactic of war to intimidate populations and governments. In addition, these acts aim to generate income for terrorist groups across the Middle East and beyond, which is then used to support their recruitment and operational efforts. 

This open-ended partnership comes against a backdrop of increased international activity aimed at countering this threat. The UN Security Council as well as the General Assembly have taken steps to condemn and deplore the destruction of cultural property.

The launch comes just one day after the announcement by the International Criminal Court of the surrender and transfer by Niger authorities of the first suspect in the Mali investigation: “Intentional attacks against historic monuments and buildings dedicated to religion are grave crimes”.

 Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, also known as ‘Abou Tourab’ - a member of the self-proclaimed ‘Ansar Dine’ armed group - is accused of allegedly committing the war crime of intentionally directing attacks against 10 buildings dedicated to religion and historic monuments in the ancient city of Timbuktu.

The Protecting Cultural Heritage initiative is a project open to all member states, international organizations and partners wishing to join forces in support of the protection of cultural heritage from destruction and/or illicit trafficking. 

This new initiative seeks to strengthen the Global Coalition for the protection of heritage launched earlier this year during the World Heritage Committee in Bonn (Germany). In order to raise awareness and multiply actions to counter this threat, the social media campaign #unite4heritage will also be enhanced.