New York

28 May 2015

Deputy Secretary-General's remarks at adoption of GA Resolution on "Saving the Cultural Heritage of Iraq" [as delivered]

Acting President Ambassador Mendonça e Moura, Director General Bokova,
Minister of State Maria Böhmer, Ambassador Alhakim, Permanent Representative of Iraq to the United Nations, Ambassador Braun, Permanent Representative of Germany to the United Nations, Excellencies, Distinguished delegates,

I am honoured to speak at today’s discussion of agenda item “Culture of peace”, with respect to the very serious topic of the draft resolution before you today: “Saving the Cultural Heritage of Iraq”.
I wish to thank the Governments of Iraq and Germany for this initiative. The number of co-sponsors to this resolution is truly heartening and impressive.
We stand here today, I know, with a deep sense of serious and historic responsibility. There is something at stake in this venerable Hall that relates to the core values of the United Nations, and to our duties with respect both to history and to the challenges ahead of us.
The destruction of cultural heritage bears witness to a senseless form of violent extremism that seeks to destroy the past, the present and the future of human civilization.
That this is taking place today in Iraq, the cradle of Mesopotamian civilization, represents a huge loss not only for the Iraqi people, but for all of humanity.
The international community must do everything in its power, as the Acting President said, to halt the destruction of Iraq’s cultural heritage and to hold perpetrators to account.
Tragically, this type of cultural destruction does not stop in Iraq: other countries in the region and beyond have seen similar crimes. We have seen them committed in Afghanistan, Syria and Mali in recent years – but rarely in times before that – a sad testimony to the state of affairs in the world today.
The destruction of cultural heritage worldwide has reached unprecedented scale. It is being used as a tactic of war or conflict in order to terrify populations, to finance criminal activities and to spread fear and hatred, creating polarizations and divisions among people. 
To respond, we need coordinated action, improved information sharing and strengthened legal foundations, both in affected countries, neighbouring States and the international community.
We should also today commend the work of UNESCO and its partners, for their own work and for assisting Member States in these efforts. 
In particular, I urge all Member States, in cooperation with UNESCO and other relevant authorities, including Interpol, to step up efforts to prevent the trade in items of cultural, scientific and religious importance illegally removed from Iraq.
By today’s Resolution in the General Assembly, you send a strong message of worldwide support for the people and Government of Iraq on a question of their national identity. I wish to reaffirm the determination of the UN System to support Member States in this endeavour.
Let today be a moment of deep reflection on our common humanity and our common responsibility to defend values and principles which are under attack – but must be upheld by all of us with firm and principled determination.
Thank you.