UNESCO calls to harness the role of heritage in peace-building

UNESCO celebrated heritage and those devoted to its protection at a high level event and conference #Unite4Heritage. Cultural Diversity under Attack: Protecting Heritage for Peace’ held at the Royal Flemish Academy of Arts and Science in the Belgian capital with the support of the Government of Flanders

The event opened a two-day expert meeting on the contribution of culture to peacebuilding and recovery. Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, Alain Le Roy, Secretary General of the European External Action Service and Geert Bourgeois, Minister-President of the Government of Flanders championed the role of cultural preservation. In a video message address, EU High Representative for external relations Federica Mogherini stated that “we are told that ethnic or cultural uniformity would be an asset, and we know how false this is. Promoting heritage is not for archaeologists only - it is a peace imperative.”

In her opening remarks, Ms Bokova stressed the need to “renew the way we protect and share heritage, to disseminate a counter narrative to the propaganda of hatred and insist on the power of culture to help people recover”."

It is not only a matter of defending culture against attacks, it is about promoting and harnessing culture as a source of peace and driver of dialogue," added Minister President Bourgeois.The Director-General called on participants “to build a broad coalition of partners working in different fields, beyond the ‘culture box’ and to connect the dots between humanitarian, security and cultural operators.”

Responding to the increase in attacks on cultural heritage and cultural pluralism notably in the Middle East and Africa, the event was held to emphasize the human face of cultural preservation, highlighting the vital importance of heritage and diversity in addressing humanitarian, human rights and security challenges in all parts of the world.

“Today we all have to cooperate and join forces to condemn this violence and work together to preserve our cultural heritage, which belongs to all nations,” said Father Najeeb Michaeel, a Dominican priest who helped save centuries old heritage and manuscripts in his hometown of Mosul, Iraq, from Da’esh.

Other examples of heritage preservation under difficult conditions came from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Mali, whose Minister of Culture, N’Diaye Ramatoulaye Diallo, took the floor alongside the UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, the Secretary-General of the World Customs Organization and the Registrar of the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. 

At the event, the EU voiced its commitment to support the protection of cultural heritage in situations of armed conflict. The EU also pledged to strengthen its cultural diplomacy efforts as part of peacebuilding which can also increase respect for pluralism, notably through enhanced cooperation with UNESCO in these fields.