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Declarations on cultural heritage at risk

In an armed conflict or natural disaster situation, heritage is particularly at risk, owing to its inherent vulnerability and tremendous symbolic value. Below is a non-exhaustive list of declarations issued by UNESCO Members States and other international actors condemning the threat of destruction and looting of cultural heritage in times of armed conflict and/or natural disasters.

The Conference “Fighting the looting of Syria's cultural heritage” was held in Sofia on 16 September 2015. The experts, who took part in the concluding summing-up session at the conference, made the following recommendations, addressed to governments and international organizations. The conference was organized by the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Sofia and the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU), under the patronage of UNESCO and in cooperation with the Bulgarian Ministry of the Interior and the Embassy of the Republic of Cyprus. 

More than 80 Ministers of Culture from around the world adopted this Declaration on the occasion of the 2015 Milan Expo, International Conference of the Ministers of Culture, held  in Milan, Italy. All sharing a common goal to protect tangible and intangible cultural heritage anywhere in the world, the Ministers were brought together to discuss how best to preserve heritage following natural disasters as well as during situations of conflict and against terrorist attacks.  

The World Heritage Committee adopted the Bonn Declaration on World Heritage which condemns assaults against cultural heritage and calls on the international community to strengthen and support UNESCO’s international leadership in coordinating the response to the protection of heritage in the event of armed conflict or natural disaster.

See also: Launch of global Unite for Heritage Coalition in Bonn

At the initiative of Greece, the Declaration was adopted at the 3rd Meeting of States Parties to the UNESCO 1970 Convention "on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of cultural Property.” It’s part of the reaction of the international community about the current world situation, especially regarding cultural property. This declaration therefore asks the States to become parties of the 1970 Convention; to take measures in order to prevent illicit trafficking and looting of cultural property; underlines the importance of cooperation at all levels; also encourages compliance with the Codes of Ethics of the ICROM and UNESCO, and finally called the media to make aware of the public about the respect and the protection of cultural property.

Representatives of the National Parliaments of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean (PAM) met, in the Moroccan Parliament in Rabat, under the High Patronage of H.M. King Mohamed VI. Together with their respective partner organizations, strongly condemned terrorism in all of its manifestations, including the deliberate destruction and the systematic looting of the ancient, historical and precious cultural heritage in many parts of the world, most of which are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

See also: Declaration in Arabic (PDF)

In response to the threat to cultural heritage in the Middle-East, the governments of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Sudan and Oman agreed, during a ministerial conference in Cairo on 13 and 14 May 2015, to unite their efforts against the trafficking, destruction and looting of cultural heritage.

See also: Addressing culture under threat at the forefront of Director-General's visit to Cairo

Following the declaration by the Norwegian Minister of Culture (17 March 2015), the Nordic Council of Ministers for Culture (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) adopted on 12 May 2015 a Declaration condemning the looting, destruction, and trafficking of cultural objects in Iraq and Syria. Moreover, the Nordic Ministers plan to host a conference in the autumn (2015) to implement an awareness-raising campaign targeted at art market professionals and the general public in their respective countries. 

The Namur Call was adopted during the 6th Conference of Ministers responsible for cultural heritage of the Council of Europe. The Call is based on the European Cultural Convention of 1954, and recalls the importance to preserve cultural heritage, especially in light of recent threats hanging over it. Ministers, therefore, have come together to further support UNESCO's numerous appeals, by condemning the destruction and other abuses to cultural heritage and reaffirmed their commitment to strengthen European cooperation to fight more effectively to protect cultural heritage. 

The International Association for Assyriology, which gathers scholars from around the world working in Cuneiform Studies and Near Eastern Archaeology, makes a public appeal for the preservation and the protection of sites, monuments and museums of Syria and Iraq.

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