UN cultural agency calls on Libyans and NATO to protect heritage sites

A section of the World Heritage site of the Old Town of Ghadamès, Libya

14 June 2011 – The United Nations cultural organization has called on the warring parties in Libya to protect two World Heritage List sites, one of which has reportedly been shelled already and the other that is said to be a potential target of NATO air attacks.

The Old Town of Ghadamès, known as “the pearl of the desert,” was shelled by Government forces over the weekend, according to media reports. Other reports have said that NATO has refused to rule out the possibility of bombing the Roman town of Leptis Magna, east of Tripoli, which allegedly has warehouses of Government arms.

“The Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova, today called on parties involved in the armed conflict in Libya to ensure the protection of the World Heritage site of the Old Town of Ghadamès and its immediate surroundings,” the agency said in a press release.

“She also appealed to the parties involved not to expose the World Heritage site of Leptis Magna to destruction and damage, following reports that this site is also under threat.”

Ghadamès, an oasis town, is one of the oldest pre-Saharan cities, and an outstanding example of a traditional settlement that also contains Roman ruins, UNESCO said. Leptis Magna, an old Roman seaport, is one of the most spectacular and unspoiled Roman ruins in the Mediterranean region.

In March Ms. Bokova said Libya and the allies participating in air strikes following a Security Council resolution authorizing “all necessary measures” to protect civilians must respect The Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two Protocols.

“From a cultural heritage point of view, [Libya] is of great importance to humanity as a whole,” said Ms. Bokova in a letter to the Permanent Representatives to UNESCO of each of the countries concerned.

“Several major sites bear witness to the great technical and artistic achievements of the ancestors of the people [of Libya], and constitute a precious legacy.”

UNESCO seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity. This is embodied in an international treaty called the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, adopted by UNESCO in 1972.


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