GENERAL ASSEMBLY ‘APPALLED’ BY EDICT ON DESTRUCTION OF AFGHAN SHRINES; STRONGLY URGES TALIBAN TO HALT IMPLEMENTATION

9 March 2001
GA/9858

GENERAL ASSEMBLY ‘APPALLED’ BY EDICT ON DESTRUCTION OF AFGHAN SHRINES; STRONGLY URGES TALIBAN TO HALT IMPLEMENTATION

09/03/2001
Press ReleaseGA/9858

Fifty-fifth General Assembly

Plenary

94th Meeting (AM)

GENERAL ASSEMBLY ‘APPALLED’ BY EDICT ON DESTRUCTION OF AFGHAN SHRINES;

STRONGLY URGES TALIBAN TO HALT IMPLEMENTATION

The General Assembly this morning, appalled by the 26 February edict of Afghanistan’s Taliban ordering the destruction of all statues and non-Islamic shrines in the country, strongly urged the Taliban to halt its implementation.

Adopting a resolution on the issue without a vote, the Assembly strongly called upon the Taliban to protect Afghanistan's cultural heritage from all acts of vandalism, damage and theft.  It also called upon Member States to help safeguard the unique Buddhist sculptures in Bamiyan, using appropriate technical measures, including, if necessary, their temporary relocation or removal from public view.

The text, sponsored by more than 90 countries, was introduced by the representative of Germany.  Most speakers in the debate preceding adoption stressed that the artifacts being destroyed in Afghanistan, including the Buddhist statues in Bamiyan, belonged to the common heritage of humankind.  Their destruction was an act of intolerance that struck at the very basis of civilized coexistence and was contrary to the real spirit of Islam.

The representative of Afghanistan said that the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) should break its silence and clearly spell out its position regarding the words and deeds of the Taliban, practiced under the holy name of Islam.  The countries that had recognized the Taliban should withdraw their recognition of the so-called “emirate”.  The international community and the United Nations should put strong pressure on Pakistan, as the ideological centre of the Taliban, to put an end to its aggressive and hegemonic design in the region and withdraw its military personnel from Afghanistan.

The representative of Pakistan also urged the Afghan Government to rescind its edict, although he asked the international community to ponder on the reasons for the Taliban’s drastic measures.  The United Nations needed to take into account that Afghanistan was witnessing a crisis of monumental proportions.  Unless the restoration of peace and reconstruction of that country were addressed, there would be no end to the cycle of misery, or indeed to those matters which evoked the consternation of the international community.  If it condemned the Taliban for its misdeeds, the international community must also consider commending it for its achievements, as in the case of the destruction of the poppy crop in the territory under its control.

The representative of India said that if the Taliban did not wish to retain the country's inheritance, his Government would be happy to arrange for

the transfer of the artifacts to India, where they would be kept safely and preserved for all mankind, in the full knowledge and clear understanding that they were treasures of the Afghan people themselves.

Also speaking this morning were the representatives of Sweden (on behalf of the European Union and associated States), Japan, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Guatemala, Egypt, Republic of Korea, Iran, Thailand, Ukraine, Nepal, Mauritius, Cambodia and Colombia.

The Assembly will meet again at 10 a.m. Wednesday, 14 March, to elect judges for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Background

The General Assembly met this morning to consider a draft resolution on the situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security (document A/55/L.79).

By the text, the General Assembly would strongly call upon the Taliban to protect Afghanistan's cultural heritage from all acts of vandalism, damage and theft.

By other terms, the Assembly would strongly urge the Taliban to stop the implementation of their edict of 26 February and to take immediate action to prevent the further destruction of Afghanistan's irreplaceable relics, monuments and artifacts.  It also called upon Member States to help, through appropriate technical measures, to safeguard the Buddhist sculptures in Bamiyan, including, if necessary, their temporary relocation or removal from public view.

The draft resolution was sponsored by Afghanistan, Andorra, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Benin, Bhutan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Hungary, Iceland, India, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Federated States of Micronesia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, Samoa, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Suriname, Sweden, Tajikistan, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Togo, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay and Yugoslavia.

Statements

DIETER KASTRUP (Germany) introducing the draft resolution, said that it was with disbelief and shock that the world learned of the Taliban edict of

26 February ordering the destruction of all statues and non-Islamic shrines in Afghanistan, and that the destruction had already begun.  It was an unacceptable act of religious intolerance.  He appealed to the Taliban not to ignore the will of the international community and to stop the destruction.

Islamic regimes had protected the cultural heritage of Afghanistan, including the unique monumental statues at Bamiyan, for 1,400 years.  Islam had a centuries-old tradition of wisdom and tolerance, which the barbarous destruction contradicted, sending false ideas about that religion.  In the resolution under consideration, the help of the international community was offered, including the statues’ temporary relocation or removal from public view.  He called for unanimous condemnation of the destruction and adoption of the resolution.  He hoped it was not too late.  Germany also subscribed to the statement to be given by Sweden on behalf of the European Union.

Speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, PIERRE SCHORI (Sweden) said that it had been with the feeling of dismay and shock that the Union had learned about the Taliban edict ordering the destruction of all statues and shrines in Afghanistan.  It was also appalled to learn last Sunday that destruction of artifacts had already begun. 

Those artifacts were of priceless historic value, he continued.  Afghanistan’s rich cultural heritage was of vital importance not only to that country, but to the whole world.  The European Union strongly urged the Taliban leadership to take immediate action to prevent further destruction of the irreplaceable relics.  It strongly condemned the deeply tragic decision by the Taliban and urged it to revoke its decision and show the spirit of tolerance enjoined upon it by Islam and respect the international sentiment in that regard.  He fully supported the draft before the Assembly, which should be adopted by consensus.

MOHAMMAD YUNUS BAZEL (Afghanistan) said that over the years, the Taliban had committed acts of barbarism against living beings.  Events over the last two weeks revealed a new dimension to the ominous undertakings by the “Pakistan-Taliban-bin-Laden Triangle”, namely cultural genocide through the burning of thousands of ancient Persian manuscripts, destruction of paintings and banning of the use of the Persian language as the working language in the areas under occupation.  The Triangle had also embarked on a policy of “social engineering” with the aim of changing the demographic composition of Afghan provinces by relocation of native inhabitants.

In line with the policy of cultural genocide, Mullah Omar, Pakistan’s puppet and Taliban’s chieftain, issued a decree on 26 February ordering demolition of pre-Islamic relics in Afghanistan, he continued.  Joining the international outcry, the Islamic State of Afghanistan strongly condemned the issuance of that despicable decree and the subsequent destruction of statues, which was definitely anti-Islamic, anti-cultural and anti-Afghan.  He was convinced that the main responsibility for the damage and plundering of Afghan cultural property lay with the military junta of Pakistan, which was directly involved in the actual fighting in Afghanistan and was the main source of religious extremism in that part of the world.

Gravely concerned about the fate of two ancient Buddha statues in Bamiyan, the Islamic State of Afghanistan had contacted the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and requested recognition of the Bamiyan statues as part of the world cultural patrimony.  Dismayingly, it had not received any response.  The destruction of the Bamiyan statues was not only a crime against history, art and humanity, but also a crime against peace and stability in the world. 

In conclusion, he said that the Organization of the Islamic Conference should break its silence and clearly spell out its position regarding the words and deeds of the Taliban, practiced under the holy name of Islam.  It was time for the countries that had recognized the Taliban to withdraw their recognition of the so-called ‘Emirate’ of the Taliban.  The international community and the United Nations should put strong pressure on Pakistan as the ideological centre of the Taliban to put an end to its aggressive and hegemonic design in the region and withdraw its military personnel from Afghanistan.

YUKIO SATOH (Japan) said his country deplored the destruction of monuments in Afghanistan.  There had been some favourable moves of cooperation with the international community by the Taliban as of late, which made the edict and the destruction of cultural objects even more disappointing.  Tolerance and respect were the most important international principles.  He called on the Taliban to stop the destruction and called on the Assembly to quickly adopt the resolution by consensus.  He also stressed the need to immediately address the dire humanitarian situation in Afghanistan.

JOHN DE SARAM (Sri Lanka) said that the morning’s gathering represented the universality of the General Assembly.  It was Germany, not a Buddhist country, that brought the draft resolution to the floor.  It was the Buddha that moved the warrior emperor Asoka to turn from violence, the same Emperor who sent his children to Sri Lanka.  He could only hope and pray that the statues in Bamiyan were not and would not be destroyed. 

He pledged his country’s cooperation in any international effort to save the historical monuments.  The resolution, of course, had Sri Lanka’s  wholehearted support.  He assured the Assembly that the Government of Sri Lanka was doing all it could possibly do to preserve the statutes in Afghanistan.

OM PRADHAN (Bhutan) expressed concern over the destruction of the statues, which belonged to the common heritage of the humankind.  His Government strongly condemned the destruction of the relics by the Taliban and reiterated its call to the Taliban to revoke its edict of 26 February and put an end to those activities.  Buddhism was an integral part of the heritage of his country, which lived by the Buddhist principles of peace, tolerance and compassion, placing the highest priority on the preservation of the rich Buddhist culture and tradition.  It was therefore deeply appalled by the Taliban edict.  There could be no rational explanation for the irresponsible acts by the Taliban.  Its actions appeared to be totally un-Islamic and could not be supported by anyone.

In the consideration of the draft resolution today, he applauded the stand taken by the international community, he said.  The appeals to the Taliban had been made from all quarters.  However, its leaders seemed to have thrown all reasons and feelings of justice, tolerance and respect for others to the wind.  It appeared to be bent upon carrying on its senseless, destructive acts.  With the collective appeal of the international community, as expressed in the draft, he hoped the Taliban would choose to listen to reason and sanity, and respect the call to put an end to destruction of the priceless statues of Bamiyan and other relics and monuments.

KAMALESH SHARMA (India) said that the plenary was discussing actions which should be unthinkable in the twenty-first century.  The relics of old civilizations were the pride of peoples, and the Taliban edict constituted an assault not just on the Afghan tradition, but on the cultural heritage of the world and the very idea of civilized living.  In the face of universal outrage and despite protests and appeals against such steps, the Taliban was committing grievous misdeeds, indeed, a sacrilege to humanity, and the cultural inheritance of all mankind.

The intent to destroy the Bamiyan Buddha should be seen not as an impulsive act, but as actions in keeping with a policy of cultural nihilism seeking to erase Afghanistan’s cultural past, he said.  The regression into mindless medieval barbarism in Afghanistan under the Taliban was precisely what India, among many other countries, had been cautioning the world against for so long.  The international community had unequivocally condemned the Taliban’s ideological orientations, which had been responsible for the territories under its control emerging as the world’s principle centre of international terrorism, illicit drugs and violation of human rights.

The destruction of the giant statues of Buddha, the embodiment of compassion, enlightenment and peace, was a symptom of a much greater threat and challenge, he said.  The Taliban was bent on policies that would result in the annihilation of the rich mosaic of cultures in Afghanistan.  Even at this late stage, he appealed that the destruction of the artifacts should stop.  If the Taliban did not wish to retain that inheritance, his Government would be happy to arrange for the transfer of the artifacts to India, where they would be kept safely and preserved for all mankind, in the full knowledge and clear understanding that they were, in the first place and above all, treasures of the Afghan people themselves.

LUIS RAUL ESTÉVEZ LOPEZ (Guatemala) said that Guatemala had a particularly deep concern over the destruction of historical sites, because it was privileged and proud to possess its own historical treasures, which were covered by the important Convention on the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage.  The value of such objects lay in their artistic merits and historical interest, and also in the venerability they derived from their association with one of the most ancient religions in the world. 

Guatemala, he said, had itself suffered tragic losses of treasures through vandalism and greed.  It was shocked by the possibility that such magnificent monuments could be lost forever.  He earnestly hoped the Taliban would heed the appeal of the draft resolution. 

AHMED ABOULGHEIT (Egypt) said that his country had been among the first to call for constructive dialogue among civilizations.   The damages now being suffered by the human heritage deepened its already great concern over events in Afghanistan.  Islam was not a faith that attempted to destroy other civilizations or religions.

The first consequence of the edict was to divert attention from the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, while the international community tried to reverse the grievous edict, he continued.  He called for adoption of the resolution by consensus, and for intensified efforts to find a peaceful solution to the entire crisis in Afghanistan.  The Taliban should not commit acts that reflected badly on Islam.  Such acts could only lead to greater misunderstanding.

SUN JOUN-YUNG (Republic of Korea) said that Buddha statues in Afghanistan were among the few examples of monumental Buddhist sculpture in the world.  They were also an important part of the cultural heritage of one of the world’s oldest religions.  The statues in Afghanistan must be preserved, and the duty of the members of the international community was to take action to protect Afghanistan’s historical artifacts.  He commended the efforts already undertaken by the international community, in particular by the Security Council and UNESCO, to stop the outrage.  His country had joined those efforts at an early stage.  The Republic of Korea fully supported the draft resolution and hoped it would be adopted by consensus.  The text would send a message that acts of violence could not and would not be tolerated by the international community.

MASMASOOD KHALID (Pakistan) said that his country shared the concern of the international community over the reported decision by the Afghan Government to destroy some historic artifacts in Afghanistan, since it attached great importance to the preservation of the world’s historical, cultural and religious heritage.  While continuing to urge the Afghan Government to rescind its edict, however, he also wanted to ask the international community to ponder on the reasons for Taliban’s drastic measures.  Were they the symptom of desperation brought on by the international denunciation of the Afghan Government?  Such behaviour could only be explained as a reaction against the international condemnation of the Taliban.

If the international community truly wanted the Taliban to change its behaviour in accordance with established norms, it must use persuasion, not intimidation, he said.  It must try to convince, rather than rebuff.  If the international community condemned the Taliban for its misdeeds, it must also consider commending it for its achievements, as in the case of the destruction of the poppy crop in Taliban-controlled territory, which had been achieved at the peril of Afghan farmers.

Although historic relics were important, so were the human lives, he said.  Afghanistan was in the grip of a grave humanitarian crisis; in the midst of a harsh winter, 700,000 Afghan people had been internally displaced and

170,000 refugees had crossed into Pakistan.  After decades of war and drought, sanctions recently imposed under Security Council resolution 1333 (2000) had been the straw that broke the camel’s back.  Afghanistan was witnessing a crisis of monumental proportions.  The United Nations needed to address the present unfortunate situation.  It was necessary to consider the “bigger picture” -– restoration of peace and reconstruction of Afghanistan.  Otherwise, there would be no end to the cycle of misery in that country or indeed to those matters that evoked the consternation of the international community.

HADI NEJAD HOSSEINIAN (Iran) said it was very unfortunate that in the Year of Dialogue among Civilizations, part of the cultural heritage of humanity faced the danger of destruction by the Taliban militia.  The Taliban had already brought much suffering upon the Afghan people by refusing to engage in a meaningful peace process, by drug trafficking and terrorism, and by harsh restrictions that were entirely alien to the compassionate teachings of Islam.  The recent acts constituted a new blow to humanity from the Taliban.  He hoped that they could still rescind their decision.  The efforts of the international community in that regard were, therefore, worthwhile and should continue with greater energy. 

ASDA JAYANAMA (Thailand) said that, as a predominantly Buddhist country, Thailand was deeply saddened by the destruction of the monumental statues at Bamiyan and other parts of the cultural heritage of mankind.  The morning’s gathering was an expression of a common sense of purpose to condemn the destruction and protect what remained.  He urged universal support for the resolution.  He also appealed to those who had influence with the Taliban leaders to work with them to stop the destruction.

VOLODYMYR G. KROKHMAL (Ukraine) reaffirmed his country’s condemnation of the destruction of non-Islamic artifacts in Afghanistan, which was a flagrant violation of international law.  He highly valued the efforts by UNESCO to preserve the international heritage.  His delegation had strongly supported the draft and expected it to be unanimously adopted.

DURGA P. BHATTARAI (Nepal) said that the statues were an invaluable heritage of humankind, which the international community had a duty to preserve. His Government was deeply shocked by the recent Taliban edict and actions.  It called upon all governments in the world to preserve and safeguard the statues.  He appreciated the swift steps taken by the United Nations in the face of the cultural catastrophe and welcomed Germany’s initiative.  His country had co-sponsored the draft before the Assembly.  He hoped that the Taliban authorities would realize, before it was too late, the significance of its actions and stop the destruction of artifacts.  He appealed to the Assembly to adopt the draft by consensus.

ANUND PRIYAY NEEWOOR (Mauritius) said his country was deeply concerned at the situation in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s defiance of the call of the international community to stop the destruction of the historic monuments.  It was a catastrophe of worldwide proportions.  He urged the Taliban to accept the offer of the Metropolitan Museum of Art to remove the statues, as a temporary measure, or other similar efforts to save the monuments. 

It was a crime that could not be justified by any conception of Islam, he added, which had always preached tolerance.  The Taliban were acting against the very precepts of their religion.  Also, he urged the Taliban to afford access to the displaced people by humanitarian workers.  In the current matter, respect for cultural diversity was the very foundation for stable societies and the pursuit of peaceful development. 

SUN SUON (Cambodia) said his country was deeply concerned by the edict of the Taliban authorities.  That destruction was appalling, at a time when all civilizations were coming together for the promotion of inter-cultural dialogue. Cambodia condemned those barbaric and sacrilegious acts.  An appeal had already been made by his Government and religious leaders to stop the destruction of the Buddhist statues and other relics.  He urged the Taliban to reverse its uncivilized decision.

ALFONSO VALDIVESO (Colombia) said that his country had joined as a co-sponsor of the draft before the Assembly.  He deeply regretted that the appeals to the Taliban to protect the historical monuments had not been heeded.  He rejected the irreparable destruction of valuable relics in Afghanistan.  The actions of the Taliban would not benefit the people of the country, who were suffering a humanitarian crisis.  He urged the Taliban authorities to reconsider their decisions and put an end to the acts of barbarism and destruction.

Action on Draft

President of the Assembly HARRI HOLKEIRI (Finland) announced that the following countries had become co-sponsors of the draft:  Bolivia, Madagascar, Monaco, Peru, Republic of Moldova, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands and Uzbekistan.

The Assembly then adopted the text without a vote.

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For information media. Not an official record.