On July 17, UNESCO held a consultation with Iraqi and international cultural heritage experts and agreed on an Emergency Response Action Plan to safeguard Iraq’s rich and diverse cultural heritage.
The Plan is intended to secure the cooperation of all stakeholders, including national and international organizations, humanitarian relief workers in the field, art dealers, international museums and law enforcement authorities, in safeguarding Iraq’s heritage.
Ever since Sunni fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) took control of some cities in Iraq, the armed conflict has led to greater destruction of heritage sites and stealing of artefacts.
Participants highlighted a range of threats facing Iraq’s heritage: damage caused by armed conflict, deliberate destruction, illicit excavation of archaeological sites and illicit trafficking in artefacts, whether from museum collections or from uncontrolled excavations. They also voiced concern for the country’s rich libraries and manuscript collections. Nevertheless, the experts pointed out that there were many gaps in information available which are making it impossible to draw a comprehensive inventory of the state of conservation of Iraqi heritage today.
The Action Plan also aims to ensure the implementation of international agreements on the protection of cultural heritage, notably The Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Properties in the Event of Armed Conflict (1954) and its Protocols, the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property; the World Heritage Convention (1972). It also seeks to enforce the ban on trafficking in cultural objects put in force by UN Security Council Resolution 1483 of 2003.
The agreed Action Plan furthermore urges close monitoring of the state of conservation of heritage and training of conservation professionals while helping those in place prepare emergency measures for the possible relocation of moveable heritage, including libraries.
The emergency meeting was convened by the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, against a background of increasing violence and instability in Iraq. Ms Bokova explained that “humanitarian and security concerns are inseparable from culture. Protecting the lives of people, their cultural heritage and identity go hand in hand,” she said, pledging that “UNESCO will continue mobilizing the United Nations Organization and the whole international community to safeguard Iraq’s cultural heritage with particular emphasis on the fight against illicit trafficking in cultural property.”
György Busztin, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, spoke to participants over the telephone from Baghdad and pledged his support to the Action Plan saying that “cultural heritage preservation will contribute to a better, peaceful future for the country.”