UNESCO brings together key partners to step up safeguarding of Iraqi and Syrian Cultural Heritage

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Fortified city of Hatra (Iraq)
© Mary Prophit
01 April 2015

UNESCO's key partners in protection of cultural heritage today agreed to strengthen cooperation and exchange of information in their efforts to improve safeguarding of this heritage in Syria and Iraq.

The high level meeting was convened by UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova to map out the effective implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2199, adopted on 12 February. It was attended by representatives from ICOM (International Council of Museums), ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites), ICCROM (International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property), IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations), INTERPOL, UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime), UNIDROIT (International Institute for the Unification of Private Law) and WCO (World Customs Organization), as well as the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team of the Security Council Al-Qaida Committee (SMT).

"This meeting bears witness to the strong determination of all agencies to respond to the tragedy underway in Iraq and Syria," said  Ms Bokova in her opening address. "We have an obligation to better coordinate and better work together, in terms of awareness raising, information sharing and strengthening of legal frameworks. We need also to reach out to the respective constituencies of each of our agencies. We can respond to the propaganda of extremists and change the narrative about heritage, mobilizing all partners, and this is the purpose of the campaign we just launched in Baghdad - #Unite4Heritage."

The destruction, looting, and trafficking of cultural property in Iraq and Syria pose a grave threat to the physical integrity of cultural objects themselves - and the sites they come from. Illicit traffic of cultural property is a lucrative trade, often involving organised crime and contributing to the financing of terrorism.

The Director-General reminded the audience that this is not only an issue related to cultural heritage, but in a broader sense, an issue of international security where war crimes have been committed in Syria and Iraq through the intentional destruction of cultural heritage.