The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, and the Secretary General of INTERPOL, Jürgen Stock, addressed members of the UN Security Council on “Combating the Destruction, Smuggling and Theft of Cultural Heritage” in countries where destruction of heritage, looting and illicit trafficking are used to fuel hatred and finance terrorism.
The meeting, convened by the Permanent Missions of Jordan and France to the United Nations, co-presidents of the Security Council, came as follow-up to Security Council Resolution 2199 on financing terrorism, adopted on 12 February, which entrusts UNESCO and INTERPOL with the responsibility of curbing the illicit trafficking of cultural objects.
“We see outrageous attempts to wipe away the heritage of the Middle East", said H.E. Dina Kawar, President of the Security Council, in her opening statement.
"The fight that brings us together today is an existential fight", emphasized H.E. François Delattre, President of the Security Council, noting that according to several sources the trafficking of antiquities is the second largest source of financing of terrorism.
The Director-General highlighted the extent of the tragedy underway, especially the loss of humanity's millennial history, and emphasized UNESCO's determination to combat the destruction, smuggling and theft of cultural heritage.
“These attacks, persecutions and destruction -- they are part of the same strategy, which I call “cultural cleansing”, to destroy identities, to tear social fabrics, to impose tyranny,” declared the Director-General.
“This is a tactic of war – a global war on minds,” she continued, explaining that violent extremists are running a powerful, global communication strategy with clear goals -- to divide populations, to recruit foreign fighters, to deepen hatred.
“We must respond,” she said. “We must change mind-sets and not let extremism hijack cultures and religions. We need strong counter-extremism communication strategies,” she added, referring to the #Unite4Heritage global campaign launched by UNESCO.
"The key for effective police work is information and access to information at the right time, at the right place, for the right officer", recalled Mr Stock, Secretary General of INTERPOL. "The current situation in Syria and Iraq presents a significant challenge because sites vulnerable to destruction are often out of effective government control", added Mr Stock. He shared lessons from the first Gulf war and the subsequent improvement of the Stolen Works of Art Database, with information on more than 1,300 items removed from museums and sites in Syria already added to the database.
Member States also requested UNESCO to intensify efforts and cooperation with the International Criminal Court, in order to document destructions and war crimes so that perpetrators can be brought to justice.
UNESCO's Director-General stressed the need for the protection of heritage to be included in the mandate of peacekeeping forces, building on recent experience in Mali, where UNESCO is rebuilding mausoleums destroyed by extremists in close cooperation with UN peacekeepers.
"Heritage must be at the frontline of peace building, as a way to build back dignity and confidence. It is imperative to curb radicalization and counter the narrative of hatred and division. The fight against illicit trafficking of cultural objects must be strengthened throughout the world," she concluded.