UNESCO on 14 October delivered a first training course in cultural heritage protection to military, police and civilian staff from Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, France, Romania, Rwanda, Togo and the United Kingdom, who are part of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
The session comes in the wake of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2100, adopted on 25 April this year, which requests MINUSMA to ensure the safeguarding of cultural heritage sites in Mali in collaboration with UNESCO. The resolution followed repeated attacks on Malian cultural heritage sites. It recognizes cultural heritage protection as an integral part of peace keeping operations and constitutes a landmark in acknowledging the importance of culture for the process of building lasting peace and reconciliation in Mali.
The training session focused on how to identify cultural heritage and informed MINUSMA personnel about existing legislation in this area and specific measures they need to take as part of their mission. It also drew their attention to the principles to be observed and sanctions that can be applied when these principles are not heeded.
Held in the framework of the programme established by MINUSMA’s training centre, the session helped participants become familiar with concepts that are essential to their new mission to protect Mali’s cultural heritage, particularly in those parts of the country affected by the recent political and military crisis. The training also raised personnel’s awareness of the diversity of community-based cultural practices and expressions and to their great importance for national reconciliation.
The heritage maps and passports created by UNESCO in November 2012 were distributed to all MINUSMA personnel during the training. A brochure entitled “Protecting cultural heritage in Mali” (hyperlink), also produced by UNESCO, will be made available to trained personnel so as to help them in their field work.
Trainees showed great appreciation of the importance of cultural heritage protection. “This training gave us essential information about the wealth of Mali’s cultural heritage and about the central role of culture in Malian society. It will help us be more attentive during our patrols and identify possible risks of trafficking in cultural objects,” said one participant, a British soldier.
“In my country, Benin,” said another participant, “attacks on certain holy places can lead to death or very severe punishment. This training brought to our attention the fact that some places may appear insignificant but can be very important for local populations, we must therefore respect them.”