Protecting cultural heritage from combatants promotes human rights and universal values: Ban
Sept.23, Geneva: Safeguarding cultural property that combatants aim to damage encompasses part of larger endeavours to defend human rights and universal values, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said , calling on the international community to intensify efforts to protect such treasures and end their illicit trafficking.
“Combatants that attack cultural treasures want to damage more than artefacts – they aim to tear at the fabric of societies,” the UN chief said in remarks presented by Irina Bokova, Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) at a high-level event entitled “Protecting Cultural Heritage – an Imperative for Humanity: Acting together against the destruction and trafficking of cultural property by terrorist groups and organized crime.” For the first time, the International Criminal Court has opened a trial for the destruction of the mausoleums
“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,” he added.
The event – held at UN headquarters in New York this afternoon – was co-organized by the Permanent Missions of Italy and Jordan, in collaboration with the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), UNESCO and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Lamenting that “we have all been devastated” by attacks on cultural heritage in the Middle East, North Africa, Yemen, Mali and beyond, the Secretary-General said that using such a tactic of war is also a war crime.
“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,” he stressed.
The UN, for its part, has been responding by taking action to restore and rebuild damaged sites. In Timbuktu, UNESCO – the UN body responsible for identifying significant cultural landmarks – helped to rebuild 14 mausoleums. In addition, hundreds of thousands of ancient manuscripts have been recovered, Mr. Ban said.
“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,” he said.
Mr. Ban was referring to the trial, on 22 August 2016, of Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, which opened before Trial Chamber VIII at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, the Netherlands. Mr Al Mahdi, a Malian national, “admitted guilt as to the war crime consisting in the destruction of historical and religious monuments in Timbuktu (Mali), between around 30 June 2012 and 11 July 2012,” read a statement from the ICC, following the opening of the trial. It was the first international trial focusing on the destruction of historical and religious monuments, and the first ICC case where the defendant made an admission of guilt. Security Council resolution 2199 (2015) on halting the financing of terrorism tackles the specific issue of illicit trafficking in cultural objects.
The Oslo Times International News Network