In the context of the ongoing destruction and rapidly evolving situation of World Heritage sites in the Syrian Arab Republic, UNESCO held several information meetings in April to assess the situation and discuss the way forward.
During an information meeting for all Member States held on 4 April at UNESCO Headquarters, Director-General Irina Bokova recalled the need for a global approach and the role of UNESCO as a universal platform for ensuring coordination among all stakeholders:
"Palmyra belongs to the whole of humanity and to all Syrians. All Syrians, together, must be able to reclaim this heritage as a symbol of identity and dignity. Palmyra cannot be disassociated from other sites, like Aleppo or the Crac des Chevaliers, which have suffered heavy damage. The protection of heritage is inseparable from the protection of human lives, taking into account the wounds and sufferings of the population during the conflict underway."
On 7 and 8 April, during the plenary debate of the 199th session of the Executive Board, the Director-General emphasized UNESCO's position and determination:
"In Palmyra, the first emergency is to assess the damage. UNESCO will send an international damage assessment mission as soon as security permits. We will also convene an international coordination conference on emergency safeguarding measures for Syrian heritage. In times of turbulence, our coordination role is more important than ever. We can make this a symbol of unity for the international community. I welcome this spirit of unity that marked the first meeting of the ‘Group of Friends United for Heritage.’ I also commend all partners who have already joined hands with us in this effort, notably the European Union, Flanders, Austria, and many others,” said the Director-General.
UNESCO was informed that the Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums of Syria started a very preliminary damage assessment survey of the site and the museum in Palmyra. As requested by the World Heritage Committee, Syria was urged "to safeguard damaged properties through minimal first aid interventions (…), and refrain from undertaking conservation and reconstruction work until the situation allows, for the development of comprehensive conservation strategies and actions that respond to international standards in full consultation with the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies” (see link http://whc.unesco.org/en/decisions/6252).
UNESCO will lead coordinated action with stakeholders, including international and academic institutions, the Syrian civil society both in the country and in the Diaspora. UNESCO has developed comprehensive action plans to coordinate international assistance for the safeguarding of the cultural heritage of Syria. UNESCO already works with all stakeholders in the framework of its project for the protection of Syrian Heritage launched in 2014 with the support of the European Union, Austria and Flanders, and implemented by the UNESCO Field Office in Beirut. An Internet platform “Observatory of Syrian Cultural heritage” was established in March 2014 to collect information on damage, destruction and looting, as well as disruptions to intangible heritage practices and transmission. UNESCO has provided training to more than 125 professionals for emergency protection of cultural heritage. Strengthened capacity have triggered 12 safeguarding initiatives on the ground, reflecting principles and objectives of UNESCO Conventions and with broad participation of communities. UNESCO has also organized several technical meetings with the expert community to discuss preservation and restoration approaches.