UNESCO Director-General calls for halt to intentional destruction of religious and cultural heritage in Iraq

On 26 July, the UNESCO Director-General, Ms Irina Bokova, called for an immediate halt to the intentional destruction of the religious and cultural heritage in Iraq.

Referring to the intentional destruction on 24 July of the shrine of Prophet Jonas and the mosque built in his honor in Mosul, the Director-General said that “I am shocked by this violence against the millenial heritage of Iraq -- destroying places of religious and cultural significance is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated.” 

The destruction of the shrine, a significant place of worship and pilgrimage with a centuries’ old history, is one among several recent attempts to destroy religious and cultural heritage in Iraq.   

“I am appalled by these brutal attacks on places of cultural and religious heritage," said Irina Bokova. "The destruction of the shrine of Prophet Jonas is a new blow against the rich diversity of Iraq’s heritage, cultural and social fabric. Such acts must be stopped immediately. Every layer of Iraq’s unique culture, including its religious heritage, must be protected”, said the Director-General -- reminding all that the intentional destruction of cultural heritage represents a war crime.  

“The diversity of Iraq’s cultural heritage bears witness to centuries of peaceful coexistence among all communities making up the society of the country”, said the Director-General, reiterating her appeal on June 17 for all Iraqis to stand united for the protection of their cultural heritage.

Last week, UNESCO in consultation with Iraqi and international experts agreed on an Emergency Response Action Plan to safeguard Iraq’s cultural heritage. The Emergency Response Action Plan defines priority interventions to mitigate heightened risks of destruction and damage, looting and illicit trafficking affecting Iraq’s cultural heritage sites and monuments, museums and their collections, as well as archives in the current situation of renewed violence.