2 June – UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, addressed the members of the Coalition to counter Da’esh that met in Paris, at the invitation of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of France, Mr Laurent Fabius, speaking about the situation of cultural heritage in Iraq and Syria and the measures UNESCO has taken to protect it. She welcomed the joint statement adopted following the Ministerial Meeting.
“These discussions bear witness to a strong political will that exists to implement a long term common strategy covering all aspects of the conflict, including the cultural aspect through the destruction of the heritage which is used as a weapon of war in order to tear societies apart and spread terror,” declared the Director-General.
The statement of the members of the Coalition highlighted, “their support to UNESCO’s action plans to safeguard the cultural heritage of Iraq and Syria, UNESCO’s resolution on culture in conflict zones, the campaign #Unite4Heritage”, commending UNESCO’s action in the “implementation of resolution 2199 of the Security Council" to fght against the illicit trafficking of cultural property in order to dry up the financial sources of terrorism.
The meeting was chaired by Mr Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, the Prime Minister of Iraq, Mr Haidar al-Abadi, and the United States Secretary of State, Mr John Kerry. It took place in the presence of delegations from 24 States.
The Director-General briefed the Members of the Coalition on the extent of the cultural tragedy.
“Never in recent history have we seen such a brutal and systematic destruction of heritage,” she said, calling for the integration of heritage in any sustainable strategy to build peace and to fight against violent extremism.
“The cultural tragedy is an essential component of the humanitarian and security crisis, and therefore, we must integrate the protection of heritage in the political response and peace strategies (…). Extremism will not be defeated by the force of weapons only – we must also win the battle of ideas, and make the value of heritage understood by all. This must be taken forward through the media and schools, to help young people resist the false promises made by extremists, to refute their pseudo-arguments and reject violent extremism”.
“This is not only a cultural emergency, it is a security imperative,” she concluded.
The meeting of this restricted Group of the Global Coalition to Counter Da’esh, came after several high level events organized by UNESCO and the American State Department on the looting and destruction of heritage in Iraq and Syria. The Assistant Secretary of State, Richard Stengel, notably condemned the worrisome "militarization of culture”, and how the destruction of heritage is used as a weapon of war and a propaganda tool.
On these occasions, speakers, experts, representatives of museums,collectors shared their vision of the situation,calling for more research and data sharing on illicit trafficking of cultural goods, of which we can only estimate the scale in light of the scale of looting of archaeological sites.
On the same day, the Director-General participated at the Louvre in the launch of the new Red List of Iraqi Antiquities at Risk, by ICOM (International Council of Museums), who participates in the implementation of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property.
The updated list also completes the Red List published by ICOM two years ago for Syria.
The launch of the Red List took place in the presence of the Minister of Culture, Fleur Pellerin,Mr Richard Stengel, the Assistant US Secretary of State,Prof. Dr. Hanz Martin Hinz, ICOM President and Mr Martinez, President of the Louvre Museum.
"It is a strong symbol that we are gathered here,UNESCO, ICOM, with France and the United States, at the Louvre, which is precisely a universal museum, a place to understand that cultures are interlinked, and that what is happening in Iraq, Syria, concerns us all, because it is our common humanity," declared the Director-General, calling on all journalists to mobilize to explain the value and significance of this heritage, and to join the campaign #Unite4Heritage led by UNESCO.