The following article is from the UNESCO World Heritage website.
Recent events in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Mali have highlighted the multiple threats to cultural heritage during crisis, including deliberate attacks, destruction as collateral damage in fighting, the greed of unscrupulous traders and collectors, vandalism of factions that seek to erase the achievements of past cultures.
These events have shown the complexity of any intervention to safeguard cultural heritage.
UNESCO has developed a comprehensive set of international instruments to protect cultural heritage. The Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970) and the World Heritage Convention (1972) provide a solid basis to protect cultural heritage. The Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Properties in the Event of Armed Conflict (1954) and its Protocols set further international standards to deal with the specific risks faced by heritage during conflict. In addition, the Statutes of the International Criminal Court have defined the intentional destruction of historical buildings as a war crime. This provides firm ground to address impunity related to such attacks.
Recognizing the powerful role of culture in building social cohesion and contributing to reconciliation and peace, the UN Security Council—in its Resolution 2100 on Mali, and Resolution 2139 on Syria–called for the protection of cultural heritage and diversity. The integration of culture in humanitarian, recovery and reconstruction operations provides the challenging opportunity of defining how cultural heritage protection can effectively contribute to the broader UN crisis response.
UNESCO advocacy and action seek to reaffirm these international standards, secure their implementation at the country level and highlight the broader implications of their violation on stability, recovery and development. In this spirit, UNESCO considers that both the protection of human lives and culture are indispensable and interconnected in the event of conflict. Whenever and wherever cultural heritage is threatened— most recently in Syria, Iraq, and Mali–the Director-General of UNESCO alerts parties and stakeholders about the urgent need to spare cultural and archaeological sites, museums, libraries and archives from the devastation of warfare.
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