New York

22 September 2016

Secretary-General's message to the High-level Meeting on Protecting Cultural Heritage - An Imperative for Humanity

[Delivered by Ms Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO]

I am pleased to convey my best wishes for the success of this High-Level Meeting on Protecting Cultural Heritage. I thank Jordan and Italy for spearheading this initiative along with UNESCO, INTERPOL and UNODC.

We have all been devastated by attacks on cultural heritage in the Middle East, North Africa, Yemen, Mali and beyond. This tactic of war is also a war crime.

Combatants that attack cultural treasures want to damage more than artefacts – they aim to tear at the fabric of societies. And protection is about more than shielding stones and buildings – it is a part of our effort to defend human rights and save people’s lives.

Throughout history, the enemies of human dignity have targeted symbols of knowledge, freedom of thought and freedom of expression. These are attacks on our universal values.

The United Nations has been responding by taking action to restore and rebuild damaged sites. In Timbuktu, UNESCO helped to rebuild 14 mausoleums. Hundreds of thousands of ancient manuscripts have been recovered.

Perpetrators are being held accountable. For the first time, the International Criminal Court has opened a trial for the destruction of the mausoleums. This can help an end to impunity.

Security Council resolution 2199 on halting the financing of terrorism tackles the specific issue of illicit trafficking in cultural objects. So far, more than three dozen countries have taken measures to curb this plague. With the support of the World Customs Organizations, UNODC and INTERPOL, ‘blood antiquities’ have been seized in a number of countries.

Today I call on the international community to intensify the global response to attacks on cultural heritage. We have a strong legal basis that we must apply through action to protect treasures and end illicit trafficking.

When we ‘unite4heritage’, we will advance our broader campaign for a more just, peaceful and sustainable future.