In recent years, cultural heritage and cultural expressions have increasingly become the direct targets of systematic and deliberate attacks in numerous conflicts around the world. Culture is particularly vulnerable to collateral damage, looting and intentional destruction, which is often paired with the persecution of individuals based on their cultural, ethnic or religious affiliation, the violation of their cultural rights and the denial of their identities. Because of the strong connection between culture and peoples’ identities, the intentional destruction and misappropriation of cultural heritage and the violation of cultural rights are aggravating factors in armed conflict and represent major obstacles to dialogue, peace and reconciliation. This is especially true in recent intra-State conflicts, which are often fought amongst groups along ethnic and religious lines.
In countries such as Iraq, Mali and Syria, extremist groups are applying a deliberate strategy aimed at eradicating cultural diversity. This involves the persecution of peoples and groups on the basis of their cultural and religious identity, including by intentionally targeting their material cultural references - such as shrines, monuments, sites, museums and their artefacts, libraries and archives, but also schools and other places of knowledge, and even teachers, intellectuals and religious leaders. It also includes preventing people from practicing their intangible cultural heritage, including religious rituals, and from exercising their cultural rights. Such strategy has been termed ‘cultural cleansing’ by UNESCO’s Director-General Irina Bokova.
In parallel, a growing number of natural disasters is causing serious damage to heritage and disrupting the culture sector in general, thus undermining the resilience of the affected communities and their prospects for a sustainable development based on local resources and capacities. In some regions, disasters are also exacerbated by the impact of climate change, particularly in the case of extreme meteorological events.
Thanks also to the leadership and advocacy efforts of UNESCO, we witness a new awareness to respond to these unprecedented challenges by integrating culture in the framework of humanitarian, security, peacekeeping and human rights policies and operations. This is exemplified by a number of groundbreaking and historic resolutions and decisions taken initially within UNESCO and then by various relevant UN bodies – underlining the role of the destruction of cultural heritage as a threat to cultural rights, a tool for terrorism financing, and as an imperative for peace and security, as well as laying out a new international agenda for the protection of culture cultural heritage in emergency situations. In this context, UNESCO has paved the way in adopting in 2015 a Strategy for the Reinforcement of its Action for the Protection of Culture and the Promotion of Cultural Pluralism in the Event of Armed Conflict.
In addition to action taken by the UN System, a multitude of other stakeholders, including Member States, Intergovernmental Organizations, Non-governmental organizations, academic institutions and many more have addressed the destruction of cultural heritage and contributed to its acknowledgment as a security and humanitarian imperative through the adoption of resolutions, decisions, statements and policies as well as the implementation of operational activities.
It is critical to build on this momentum to strengthen our collective capacity to protect culture and promote cultural pluralism as tools for more resilient and peaceful societies.
- SC 2379 Da’esh accountability
- SC 2368 Illicit trafficking of cultural property - Iraq and Syria
- SC 2347 Destruction of cultural heritage in the event of armed conflict
- UNESCO 39C/Res 57 Strategy for the Reinforcement of UNESCO’s Action for the Protection of Culture and the Promotion of Cultural Pluralism in the Event of Armed Conflict
ENG: FRE: SPA CHI: RUS: ARA
- UNESCO 201EX/Decision 5.I.E Report on the implementation of the Strategy for the reinforcement of UNESCO’s action for the protection of culture and the promotion of cultural pluralism in the event of armed conflict
- SC 2322 Illicit trafficking of cultural property - cooperation to fight terrorism
- SC 2299 Iraq - UNAMI mandate
- SC 2295 Mali - MINUSMA mandate
- A/HRC/33/L.21 Cultural rights and the protection of cultural heritage
- SC 2259 Libyan Political Agreement
- SC 2253 Illicit trafficking of cultural property - Iraq and Syria
- SC 2233 Iraq - UNAMI mandate
- SC 2227 Mali - MINUSMA mandate confirming heritage protection
- SC 2199 Illicit trafficking of cultural property - Iraq and Syria
- A/RES/70/76 Return or Restitution of Cultural Property
- A/RES/69/281 Saving the Cultural Heritage of Iraq
- A/HRC/28/L.7/Rev.1 Technical assistance and capacity-building to improve humanrights in Libya
- UNESCO 38C/Res 48 Reinforcement of UNESCO’s Action for the Protection of Culture and the Promotion of Cultural Pluralism in the Event of Armed Conflict
- UNESCO 38 C/49 Strategy for the Reinforcement of UNESCO’s Action for the Protection of Culture and the Promotion of Cultural Pluralism in the Event of Armed Conflict
- UNESCO 197 EX/Decision10 Reinforcement of UNESCO’s Action for the Protection of Culture and the Promotion of Cultural Pluralism in the Event of Armed Conflict
- UNESCO 196 EX/Decision 29 Culture in Conflict Areas: A humanitarian Concern and a Safety Issue. UNESCO’s Role and Responsibilities
- A/RES/69/283 Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030
- SC 2170 Iraq
- SC 2139 Syria
- UNESCO 195 EX/Decision 31 Protection of Iraqi Heritage
- SC 2100 Mali – MINUSMA mandate