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#ProtectHeritage: Italy and Jordan launch a new partnership to contrast attacks against culture

Italian MFA Paolo Gentiloni with UN Yuri Fedotov and Jordan colleague Nasser Judeh

(By Alessandra Baldini)

NEW YORK – Italy takes the lead at the UN on safeguarding monuments threatened by Isis, and proposes an international task force to protect Iraq and Syria’s religious and cultural heritage sites from extremists and terrorists’ attacks. “Isis and other terrorist groups actions in Palmyra, Mosul, Hatra, Nimrud reveal the determination to eradicate diversity. It is a form of ethnic cleansing that violates human dignity and minority rights”, said the minister of Foreign Affairs Paolo Gentiloni, launching #ProtectHeritage, a new partnership for the protection of cultural heritage.

UNESCO Director Irina Bokova – who took the floor during the high-level event organized by the Italian government along with Jordan, UNODC, INTERPOL, and moderated by Emily Rafferty, president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art – observed that culture is on the frontline of conflicts and “we must place it at the heart of peacebuilding”. Gentiloni explained that the task force proposed by Italy, which “is gaining traction at UNESCO”, should include archeologists, military forces specialized in the safeguard of cultural heritage, ONGs personnel and cataloguers. “They should be deployed in “grey” areas where there are tensions, but not wars”. It is something similar to the “culture peacekeepers”, as it was discussed recently, but “definitely, we are not talking about sending paratroopers to Palmyra”, clarified the minister.

Italy thinks that peacekeeping missions should also include a cultural dimension, and Gentiloni made the longstanding experience acquired by Carabinieri available to the project.

Today at the UN Heaquarters, a new global alliance was started, open to all states, with the support of representatives from dozens of countries, ranging from Cyprus to Mali, from South Sudan to Greece, from Guatemala to the US and Iraq. “Isis and other terrorist groups actions against cultural heritage reveal the determination to eradicate diversity. It is a form of ethnic cleansing that violates human dignity and minority rights”, said Gentiloni, while his Jordan colleague Nasser Judeh stated that “cultural heritage belongs to all humanity. The answer to those attack it must be zero tolerance”. Executive director of UNODC Yury Fedotov, president of INTERPOL Mireille Ballestrazzi and the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini also participated at the meeting.

There has been a sharp increase in terrorist attacks and destruction of cultural heritage of countries affected by armed conflict, as well as the illicit trafficking and sale of cultural objects. These acts not only generate income for terrorist groups in the Middle East and beyond, but also constitute a tactic of war and Ms. Ballestrazzi, for Interpol, highlighted the need “to combine our efforts and resources to efficiently curb this criminal phenomenon and protect the world’s cultural heritage for future generations”.

Besides the task force, the partnership will avail itself of several tools: “Threats to culture can be fought only with culture, making use of databases for instance”, said Gentiloni, but also by investigating on illicit trafficking and stopping illegal financing to Isis, by using legal instruments such as those provided by the International Criminal Court. Yesterday, for the first time, the ICC applied to its jurisdiction the destruction of mausoleums in Timbuktu, Mali. “The destruction of culture heritage is an attack to the whole world”, said prosecutor Fatou Bensouda in videoconference: “Yesterday, for the first time, a suspect for the destruction of Timbuktu was to brought to the Court and will be put to trial”.

“It should not take a crisis or a destruction of heritage for a call to action”, argued Judeh, urging to work on  a set of “law, measures and actions” to refer to, even in less urgent circumstances. “A mechanism to have individual countries, agencies and the ICC keep in touch” should be established, said the minister,  interpreting the recent presentation of that suspect to the Hague tribunal as “a precedent and a deterrent in the future”. (AB, September 27, 2015).

(AB/AS, September 27, 2015).

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