Sweden Expresses Strong Support for UNESCO’s role in Protecting Heritage in Conflict

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova and Sweden’s Secretary of State to the Minister of Foreign Affairs Annika Söder discussed reinforced cooperation to protect cultural heritage under attack and fight the illicit trafficking of cultural objects during a meeting in Stockholm on 26 November, on the margins of the Global Child Forum.

‎Ms Bokova expressed deep appreciation ‎for Sweden's broad engagement with UNESCO that spans the breadth of its mandate, from freedom of expression and gender equality to capacity building in education and skills to ocean science. 

She praised the participation of Swedish Minister for Culture and Democracy Ms Alice Bah Kuhnke in the special event on 2 November, marking the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists and the presence of the Minister of Education, Mr Gustav Fridolin, in the Swedish-led side-event on Technical and Vocational Education and Training during the 38th session of the General Conference. 

 ‎Ms Söder reiterated Sweden’s strong stake in the promotion of freedom of expression and information, noting that in 2016, the country will mark the 250th anniversary of its Access to Information Law, which can still be held up as an instrument to promote transparency and reduce corruption.

Not‎ing UNESCO’s rising emphasis on countering violent extremism through education, protection of cultural heritage and reaching out to youth, the Director-General stressed the urgency of reinforcing the fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural objects that is financing terrorism.

 She encouraged Sweden to assist in the drive to harmonize legislation in this area, in particular through more robust import rules, noting that since the adoption of Security Council Resolution 2199, 35 countries have changed their laws and regulations, and reinforced coordination mechanisms.

In response to the State Secretary’s interest in how to protect cultural heritage in war zones, Ms Bokova informed  

her about UNESCO's initiative in Mali to sensitize peacekeeping troops, including through the development of a comprehensive manual and of a passport-style document with maps featuring the location of heritage sites. 

Ms Söder concurred that educating and training peacekeeping troops was the smart approach‎, as the protection of cultural heritage should fit into a wider mandate. She proposed that such training could be introduced into the Folke Bernadotte Academy for the training of peacekeepers in Sweden, which also collaborates with a wide network of training institutions.

The State Secretary informed Ms Bokova about the release of a new report, coordinated by former minister Mona Sahlin, on countering violent extremism, and in Sweden's interest in engaging more widely to promote tolerance and inter-religious dialogue.  

She signalled also the country's growing recognition of the importance of investing in education for peace-building in post-conflict situations.  

Turning to the upcoming COP21 conference on climate change, Ms Bokova stressed the importance of UNESCO's engagement, showcasing work on education for sustainable development, disaster risk reduction, protection of biodiversity, ocean science, ‎marine heritage sites and strengthening resilience in Small Island Developing States. 

The State Minister noted that Sweden was strongly engaged on oceans and climate funding, expressing support for the Director-General's perspective on changing mindsets and mobilizing governments and partners to build green societies. 

Making the United Nations fit for purpose to implement the 2030 agenda was also discussed. The Director-General drew attention to the key role of specialized agencies and concurred with the State Minister on the importance of capacity building, policy development, knowledge transfer and normative standards. She emphasized the necessity of government owernship and of support to countries and regions that are lagging farthest behind, noting also increasing recognition of the need for closer convergence between the humanitarian, development and peace-building agendas.