The Government of Mali and UNESCO have defined measures to safeguard World Heritage Properties in the north of Mali, including the fabled city of Timbuktu, following reports of wilful damage to mausoleums in the World Heritage site.

UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Africa, Lalla Aicha Ben Barka, travelled to Bamako (18 – 20 May) and met senior government officials including Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra, who is also a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. She was accompanied by Kishore Rao, Director of UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre, Juma Shabani, head of UNESCO’s Office in Mali, and Lazare Eloundou Assomo, Chief of the World Heritage Centre’s Africa Desk.

Mali and UNESCO agreed to take the following steps to preserve the country’s cultural heritage:

  1. Mali is to finalize its accession to the 1999 Second Protocol to the Hague Convention of 1954 for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict to enable it to submit requests for the granting of enhanced protection to cultural properties that are of the greatest importance to humanity.
  2. The government of Mali will request the inscription of the two World Heritage sites of Timbuktu and the Tomb of Askia on the List of World Heritage in Danger by the World Heritage Committee during its forthcoming session (24 June to 6 July).
  3. Mali has furthermore undertaken to draft an exhaustive report concerning priority measures to preserve Mali’s World Heritage sites, in line with international heritage conventions. Mali is also to request technical and financial assistance from UNESCO and the international community.

UNESCO for its part is to:

  1. Present the World Heritage Committee with a detailed report on the state of conservation of World Heritage sites in Mali, notably Timbuktu and the Tomb of Askia during its next meeting. The report is also to include measures taking by the Government of Mali to safeguard these sites.
  2.  Assist the Government of Mali in reinforcing protection of all its cultural properties which are essential for the preservation of Malian culture, described by the Government as both “rich and tolerant, and part of the heritage of humanity.”
  3. Raise awareness in Mali’s neighbouring countries and among members of the international community of the situation to help fight the illicit trade in cultural artefacts.
  4. Work in close cooperation with all U.N. organizations engaged in humanitarian action in Mali to ensure the safeguarding of the country’s cultural property.

At the end of UNESCO’s mission to Mali, the country’s Culture Minister Diallo Fadima Touré declared that “UNESCO’s mission, which has led to the development of the first emergency measures to safeguard the World Heritage sites of Mali, is the first cultural response to the crisis in the north of country.”

The mission followed the declaration by UNESCO’s Director-General, Irina Bokova, that UNESCO stands ready to assist Mali preserve its cultural heritage. In a press statement on 5 April, Ms Bokova stressed that “Timbuktu’s outstanding earthen architectural wonders that are the great mosques of Djingareyber, Sankore and Sidi Yahia, must be safeguarded. Along with the site’s 16 cemeteries and mausolea, they are essential to the preservation of the identity of the people of Mali and of our universal heritage,” the Director-General added.