As World Heritage Committee opens session, UNESCO urges protection of sites targeted for destruction

Archaeological site of Palmyra in Syria. Photo: ©UNESCO/F. Bandarin

28 June 2015 – The head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) strongly appealed for the international community to help counter the emerging threat of violent extremism and cultural cleansing, in remarks to the opening of the 39th session of the World Heritage Committee today in Bonn, Germany.

“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,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, as she addressed participants at the Committee's current session, which runs through 8 July.

“Our response to ignorance and criminal stupidity, must also have a cultural dimension: knowledge, the sharing of Islam's millennial learning and wisdom, sharing the message of Palmyra, the 'Venice of the Sands', that is like a bridge between the legacies of ancient Greece and Rome, the Persian Empire and the Arab culture from ancient times to the present,” declared Mrs. Bokova.

Committee Chair, Maria Böhmer, Minister of State at the German Federal Foreign Office and member of the Bundestag, said the fury of terrorist organizations like ISIS [also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levans, or ISIL] in Iraq surpasses the imagination.

“World Heritage is the foundation of people's existence and cohesion […]. It is the wellspring of social identity,” she added, invoking the role of culture in peacebuilding.

During the opening session, the International Young Experts Forum presented the outcome of their meeting, taking place from 18 to 29 June in Koblenz and Bonn. They read out the Declaration they adopted calling on States Parties to the World Heritage Convention to include teaching about World Heritage in national school curricula.

The World Heritage Committee is responsible for the implementation of the World Heritage Convention, defines the use of the World Heritage Fund and allocates financial assistance upon requests from States Parties.

It has the final say on whether a property is inscribed on the World Heritage List. It examines reports on the state of conservation of inscribed properties and asks States Parties to take action when properties are not being properly managed. It also decides on the inscription or deletion of properties on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

Thirty-six sites are nominated for inscription on UNESCO's World Heritage List at this year's session. They are listed here.

Also during its session, the Committee will also examine the state of conservation of 94 sites already on the World Heritage List, and of the 46 sites inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger. Debates will be webcast.

A number of parallel events will be held during the current session, notably the launch of the Global Coalition for the Protection of Cultural Heritage: #Unite4Heritage on 29 June.


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