How we can stop the destruction and smuggling of cultural heritage – UNESCO

UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay has called on the United Nations (UN) Security Council to take prompt actions against the smuggling and destruction of cultural heritage.

Speaking at a UN Security Council meeting on Wednesday, Ms. Audrey called on the agency to gear up on its role as guardians of cultural property, and assume front-line responsibilities in the global efforts to stop the trafficking and destruction of heritage sites.

Ms. Audrey Azoulay Image

The director-general of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) also outlined steps to protect cultural heritage and ensure that it continues to serve as a source of belonging and peace for all people even in times of conflict.

The briefing from Ms. Audrey, who took office last month, highlighted the Secretary-General’s first report on the council’s adopted resolution 2347 (2017), which, among others, condemned destruction of cultural heritage and the looting of cultural property.

According to an update from the U.N., Ms. Audrey’s landmark text urged all member states to be preemptive in their efforts to safeguard cultural property in wartime.

She also advised on the need for appropriate security measures to be taken with the aim of forestalling illicit trade and trafficking in cultural property, as well as all other items of archaeological, historical, cultural, rare scientific, and religious significance located in war-torn zones, especially against terrorist groups.

In her words, ‘The adoption of resolution 2347 (2017) represents a major breakthrough, and it testifies to a new awareness on the importance of culture to respond to conflicts, to prevent radicalization and fight violent extremism.’

The DG of UNESCO noted in her statements to the Council that the support she has so far garnered from Member States was responsible for her implementation of the resolution which comes  simultaneously with other measures taken by the Council to effectively provide cover for key aspects required in prompt military responses against terror and hatred.

Among the remarkable initiatives coming from several countries in the fight against destruction and trafficking of cultural property, Ms. Audrey said, ‘In a very short span of time, 29 Member States shared information on new actions taken to protect cultural heritage…discussions were also held on strengthening tools and training of specialized personnel, reinforcing international cooperation and information sharing.’

She added, ‘We need to do more,’ also referring to the discuss as ‘positive signs of deep change.’

According to the UN cultural agency chief, out of the 82 UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Arab region, 17 are on the List of World Heritage in Danger due to challenges posed by war.

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She remarked that over 100 cultural heritage sites across Iraq have been damaged, adding that all six Syrian World Heritage sites, including Palmyra, which is located in the ruined city of Aleppo, one of the oldest cities in the world, have been badly damaged.

Ms. Audrey urged Member States to be proactive in several key areas that encompassed raising awareness of the resolution to strengthen its implementation by all member-countries, facilitating data collection and information sharing, especially on trafficking routes, damage assessment; as well as offering adequate training for peacekeepers in the protection of cultural heritage.

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She urged member states to fully integrate this issue into peacekeeping mandates and missions.

‘In all this, I pledge today once again UNESCO’s determination to support Member States with the necessary tools and policy advice,’ Ms. Audrey, the current UNESCO Director-General, concluded her statements at the Council meeting.

Former French minister Audrey Azoulay appointed as UNESCO Director-General