UNESCO Director-General: "Protecting culture is a moral responsibility and a security issue"

On 16 February 2016, UNESCO’s Director-General, Ms Irina Bokova, and the Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Paolo Gentiloni, signed an agreement for the establishment of an Italian Task Force for the protection of cultural heritage, in the framework of UNESCO Global Coalition “Unite4Heritage”. The Task Force members will be ready to deploy, at the request of UNESCO, to assist in safeguarding cultural heritage at risk.

“I commend the leadership shown by Italy in promoting new and ambitious strategies to cope with the unprecedented challenge of deliberate attacks on cultural heritage in conflict situations around the world”, said Ms Bokova.  She  congratulates“The establishment of a Task Force bringing together cultural heritage experts and members of the Italian Carabinieri specialized in the fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural property constitutes an innovative approach. It marks a significant step to reinforce our capacity to respond to future emergencies.” 

The creation of this Task Force by the Italian Government comes as a direct response to the destruction of cultural heritage in the Middle East and across the globe in recent conflicts. UNESCO Member States have adopted a Strategy for the reinforcement of the protection of culture and the promotion of cultural pluralism. The Strategy was adopted by the General Conference in November 2015. It calls on Member States to contribute to its implementation, notably through the establishment of mechanisms for the rapid deployment of national experts in situations of emergency, under the coordination of UNESCO. 

Irina Bokova expressed her confidence that « this Task Force, and the agreement signed in Rome with the Italian Government, will become a model for other countries ». The Italian Minister of foreign Affairs, M. Gentiloni undescored that« Terrorists targeting cultural heritage aim to destroy culture, education and the human capacity to grow with the full consciousness of what binds humanity in its cultural diversity and its pluralistic and inclusive vision”. 

The recent large-scale and systematic destruction and looting of cultural sites has highlighted the strong connection between the cultural, humanitarian and security responses to conflict and terrorism. Attacks against cultural heritage and diversity are also attacks against people, their rights, and their security. Under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the deliberate destruction of cultural heritage is a war crime. In the face of these unprecedented challenges, the need was recognized for new and more effective approaches by UNESCO building on existing international legal instruments, notably the 1954 Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, and enhancing the scope of their application, as well as the range of intervention of UNESCO. 

At the end of the ceremony, the Minister of culture, Franceschini concludes by encouraging "other countries to join the Task Force and to rally their legal, cultural and judicial expertise‎ in this fundamental cause. We will be stronger if we stay united."