UNESCO Launches Global Coalition to Protect Cultural Heritage
On June 29th, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) met for the 39th session of the World Heritage Committee in Bonn, Germany. During this gathering, Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova launched a Global Coalition: Unite for Heritage. The purpose of this coalition is to strengthen and mobilize governments and stakeholders in the face of deliberate damage to cultural heritage like monuments and books, particularly in the Middle East.
“Our main challenge is to succeed in getting all the players involved in the struggle to work together,” Director-General Bokova said. She continued, “Police, customs officials, museums, governments, actors from cultural, humanitarian and security sectors, civil society and the media. We need to create new alliances to meet the challenges of violent extremism.”
Unite for Heritage seeks to organize stakeholders beyond traditional and cultural heritage communities. Uniting the general public, it hopes to make the significance of cultural heritage a global priority. Utilizing social media and UNESCO’s efforts to coordinate technical work among different specialized agencies and institutions, the coalition aims to mobilize society at large.
During the 39th session, the World Heritage Committee adopted the Bonn Declaration on World Heritage which condemns “the barbaric assaults, violence and crimes committed in recent times by the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as Daesh, against the cultural heritage of Iraq, including the World Heritage site at Hatra, which recalls mindless destructions in Bamiyan, Timbuktu, and elsewhere.”
“Heritage is under attack today. In Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen, we see the brutal and deliberate destruction of heritage on an unprecedented scale. This is a call for action,” declared Bokova.
The Declaration recommends that heritage protection, such as Palmyra (Syria) or the Old Town of Sana’a (Yemen), be included in the mandate of peacekeeping missions when possible. Additionally, it recommends UNESCO to coordinate a response to the protection of heritage in the event of future armed conflict or natural disaster.
“The Bonn Declaration adopted by the World Heritage Committee bears witness to a shared will to protect heritage properties from all threats,” Maria Böhmer, Chairperson of the World Heritage Committee said. She continued, “This is an important text which speaks to States as well as civil society. Iraq and other countries under threat do not stand alone. We will help them.”