Cultural diversity under attack: protecting culture for peace

10 June 2016

 Having witnessed the intensification of attacks on cultural heritage and increasing incidents of cultural heritage destruction in conflict areas in recent years, UNESCO has launched a powerful campaign, #Unite4Heritage, to safeguard cultural heritage and diversity around the world.

As part of the campaign, from 9 to 10 June 2016, a High Level Debate and Technical Conference, entitled “Cultural Diversity under Attack: Protecting Heritage for Peace”, was held by UNESCO in Brussels. Organized in partnership with the European Union, the meeting also benefited from the support of the Government of Flanders.

The expert meeting started with a high-level discussion on “Cultural Diversity Under Attack”, which saw the WCO Secretary General, Mr. Kunio Mikuriya, exchange views with the Director General of UNESCO, Mrs. Irina Bokova, the Minister of Culture of Mali, Ms. N’Diaye Ramatoulaye Diallo, the UN Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights, Ms. Karima Bennoune, and the UN Assistant Secretary General, Registrar of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and Registrar of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (UNMICT), Mr. John Hocking.

UNESCO Director General Bokova opened the discussion by highlighting the importance of heritage for peace and the role it plays in the resilience, recovery and reconstruction of societies torn apart by conflict.

The Minister of Culture of Mali shared the experiences of her country in this area, mentioning in particular the 2012 attack on Timbuktu and the heroic acts of the local population to save ancient Timbuktu manuscripts from being destroyed by a terrorist group. She gave a message of hope, stating that culture would always survive no matter what challenges await. She reinforced the message of the UN Rapporteur on Cultural Rights by confirming that the involvement of both government and civil society was critical when it came to protecting cultural heritage.

The UN Assistant Secretary General spoke about the role of transitional justice and shared the experiences of the ICTY in this area. He also spoke of a recent case related to the destruction in Timbuktu.

WCO Secretary General Mikuriya stressed the urgency of fighting against the illicit trafficking of cultural objects and the need for all relevant stakeholders to cooperate and coordinate their actions. He pointed out that, although Customs plays an indispensable role in this fight owing to its place at the border, Customs officers may not have the specific skills necessary to identify cultural objects and need to reach out to experts in a very short time frame when confronted with a possible trafficking case. To remedy this situation, he informed the audience that a dedicated platform named ARCHEO had been developed specifically to enable communication in real time between law enforcement officers and experts in cultural heritage. Controls are also made markedly easier when cultural property is accompanied by the appropriate certificate at export; the WCO Secretary General thus advocated the use of the UNESCO-WCO Model Export Certificate which was specifically designed for cultural property.

A wide array of other topics was discussed during the two-day conference, including cultural diplomacy, the protection of cultural rights in protracted crises, conflict resolution and stabilization, and cooperation with law enforcement to protect cultural heritage.

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