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UNITED NATIONS – A new international initiative to enhance the protection of cultural heritage targeted by terrorists and illicit traffickers has been launched at the United Nations by Jordan and Italy, supported by UNESCO, INTERPOL and UNODC.

The “Protecting Cultural Heritage—An Imperative for Humanity” initiative was launched on Sunday 27 September by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Italy and Jordan with the participation of principals from UNESCO, INTERPOL and UNODC as well as ministers from a number of UN member states on the sidelines of the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly. 

The main goal of the programme is to follow up on resolutions and decisions adopted by the UN Security Council, the UN General Assembly and other international bodies. 

Throughout the last decade, the world has witnessed a sharp increase in terrorist attacks on, and destruction of, the cultural heritage of countries affected by armed conflict. Organized looting, illicit trafficking and sale of cultural objects has reached an unprecedented scale.

Terrorist groups are using these acts as a tactic of war to intimidate populations and governments. In addition, these acts aim to generate income for terrorist groups across the Middle East and beyond, which is then used to support their recruitment and operational efforts. 

This open-ended partnership comes against a backdrop of increased international activity aimed at countering this threat. The UN Security Council as well as the General Assembly have taken steps to condemn and deplore the destruction of cultural property. 

Rallying partners to enhance the protection of cultural heritage, Paolo Gentiloni, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy, said: “Cultural heritage is a reflection of human history, civilization and the coexistence of multiple peoples and their ways of life. Its protection is a shared responsibility of the international community, in the interest of future generations.”

“The religious and cultural heritage of the Middle East, the birthplace of civilization and religions, belongs to all humanity,” said Nasser Judeh, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Jordan, who appealed to the high-level participants to “protect and preserve it as it is the collective responsibility of the international community.”

Advocating for increased political commitment, Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO said, “Culture is on the frontline of conflict – we must place it at the heart of peacebuilding”.

The Executive Director of UNODC, Yury Fedotov emphasized the importance of joining efforts in addressing the issue of the trafficking  and the destruction of cultural property as ‘crimes that strike at the very core of our civilization and heritage”

President of INTERPOL, the world’s largest police organization, Mireille Ballestrazzi stressed the need “to combine our efforts and resources to efficiently curb this criminal phenomenon and protect the world’s cultural heritage for future generations”.

The Protecting Cultural Heritage initiative is a project open to all member states, international organizations and partners wishing to join forces in support of the protection of cultural heritage from destruction and/or illicit trafficking. 

The public is therefore also invited and encouraged to join the conversation on protecting heritage at #ProtectHeritage.