Building peace in the minds of men and women

Irina Bokova: Culture and heritage are powerful tools for dialogue and social cohesion

On 16 April, the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, gave a conference at the University of Geneva on the “Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Times of War”, as part of a series of public lectures under the theme “Cultural Heritage of Mankind: a Tool for Peace”.

The conference provided the opportunity to present UNESCO's work on the ground in Mali to rehabilitate destroyed mausoleums, and UNESCO's Plan of action to safeguard Syrian heritage.

The Director-General was invited to speak by Marc-André Renold the holder of the UNESCO Chair in the international law of the protection of cultural heritage, established at the University of Geneva in 2012, and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, Metin Arditi, in the presence of H.E. Mr. Jean Frederic Jauslin, Ambassador, Permanent Delegate of Switzerland to UNESCO.

Highlighting the vital role of culture in building peace and the necessity of protecting culture in times of war the Director-General stated that today “culture is not a collateral victim of conflict, it became a direct and deliberate target”. And if culture is targeted in times of war it is “because culture carries the values and identities of a people.”  If culture is attacked it is to weaken the social fabric of societies and communities, once it is destroyed, collective identity disappears.

The Director-General provided an overview of UNESCO’s action in Libya, Mali, Iraq and Syria stressing UNESCO's strong conviction that the economic and political agreements alone are not sufficient to build lasting peace. "The destruction of heritage affects societies in the long term, it is therefore critical essential that the protection of heritage be included in emergency operations, as it is inseparable from the protection of human live for which it bears the values and identities” declared Irina Bokova. 

Underlining the increasing risk of illicit trafficking of cultural goods, especially in countries undergoing conflict, the Director-General emphasized the importance of UNESCO’s work in raising awareness among officials and citizens on the importance of protecting cultural heritage to preserve people's identity and to build peaceful societies.

Read full lecture (PDF)

While in Geneva, the Director-General also held bilateral meetings with the Rector of the University of Geneva, Professor Jean Dominique Vassalli, and Acting Director-General of the United Nations Office in Geneva, Michael Møller.