Protecting Humanity’s Shared Heritage in Iraq

On 2 November, the UNESCO Director-General started her official visit to Iraq at the National Museum, pledging “to stand with the people and Government of Iraq to defend their heritage and diversity, along with the values of dialogue and tolerance that they carry.”

The visit to the museum was led by its Director, Qais Rasheed, and with the Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, Adel Fahad Shershab, the Minister of Education and President of Iraq National Commission for UNESCO, Mohammed Iqbal. This visit took place with Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Iraq, Gyorgy Busztin.

“It is deeply moving to visit this Museum, highlighting the millennial history of this land,” Irina Bokova said. "It is symbolic that I start my official visit with this museum, because this is emblematic of Iraq's history, which is part of the story of all humanity – it is our responsibility to defend it.”

“Along with a deep humanitarian crisis, we see in Iraq today unprecedented cultural cleansing, cultural eradication and cultural looting, we are witnessing the intentional destruction of irreplaceable landmarks, communities attacked on the basis of their identities and the systematic looting of ancient sites for illicit trafficking,” said the Director-General.

She underlined the importance of safeguarding Iraq’s cultural heritage and diversity for the future of the country.

“To counter extremism, to build peace, we need to safeguard this country’s unique heritage of diversity and tolerance – to prepare the ground for reconciliation.”

Speaking to press at the Museum, Irina Bokova made an appeal to stop all attacks against the country’s minorities.

“These are despicable violations of human rights -- cultural cleansing must stop immediately,” she declared. "UNESCO will support the unity of all people of Iraq, to protect their cultural heritage and diversity.”

The Director-General highlighted UNESCO’s longstanding efforts to protect, conserve and rehabilitate Iraqi cultural heritage, especially after the looting of the National Museum in 2003.

She underlined the importance of mobilising international support for safeguarding Iraqi cultural heritage and diversity, given the scale of the challenge.

She noted here the Emergency Response Action Plan, prepared by Iraqi and international experts on 17 July 2014 -- focusing on monitoring, communication, awareness-raising, and technical assistance.

"We must act," she said. "We have no time to lose to strengthen the foundations of peace and reconciliation."

This includes, she stressed, the essential importance of freedom of expression, for which the safety of journalists is essential, in Iraq and all societies, noting 2 November as the first International to End Impunity for crimes against journalists.