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UNESCO laments 'barbaric' cultural destruction by 'IS'

UNESCO's World Heritage Committee has called the "Islamic State's" destruction of artifacts and sites in Syria and Iraq "barbaric." A declaration issued in Bonn says threats to heritage sites worldwide must be resisted.

The Heritage Committee's declaration, issued during its annual meeting in Bonn on Monday, said everything possible must also be done to stop the smuggling of antiques from the Middle East conflict zone.

Maria Böhmer, a minister of state in the German Foreign Office, who is chairing the Bonn conference, said the committee had "re-emphasized the joint intention to protect and retain world heritage sites from every form of destruction wherever it occurred around the world."

Böhmer had earlier Germany's "Deutschlandradio" that preventative practices were needed, including evacuation plans for threatened antiquities and digital scanning of objects to better assist experts during reconstruction efforts.

The so-called Bonn Declaration follows a UN General Assembly resolution passed in late May that expressed "outrage" that heritage destruction was being used as a "tactic of war" to impose violent extremist ideologies - alongside the human toll.

Tagung des UNESCO-Welterbekomitees in Bonn

Bokova and Böhmer slam IS destruction

That resolution was sponsored by Iraq and Germany.

Over the past year, "Islamic State" (IS) militants in Iraq have pillaged the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, displayed videos of museum statues being smashed in Mosul, and admitted to blowing up two ancient shrines in

Palmyra in central Syria

.

Destroying memory

Opening the10-day conference on Sunday, UNESCO head Irina Bokova (pictured left, with Böhmer), a former Bulgarian foreign minister, said IS was trying to destroy mankind's memory.

"That cannot be allowed," Böhmer said Monday, saying memory was part of human identity.

Last month, Mechtild Rossler, who is deputy heritage director of the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), described the illicit trade in "blood antiquities" from wartorn Syria and Iraq as "unprecedented."

UNESCO's resources are limited for enforcing six heritage-related international conventions, not least because of a US cut in funding in 2011.

NGOs appeal for more inclusion

Delegates in Bonn have been urged by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to include more civil society representatives, including indigenous peoples in local heritage protection.

Stephan Dömpke of the "World Heritage Watch," a grouping formed last year, said a resolution handed to the UNESCO committee pointed out that NGOs did much to safeguard

heritage sites

.

UNESCO, itself, often lacked the capacity to monitor sites and governmental reports about them were not subject to verification, Dömpke said.

"Only those who watch world heritage sites daily can spot risks and warn UNESCO," he said.

Fresh sites seek status

The heritage committee is due to examine 36 proposals to recognize sites as world heritage.

They include Susa in Iran, Ephesus in Turkey and sites of Japan's Meiji Industrial Revolution.

Also to be debated are Viking Age sites in Northern Europe - Denmark, Germany, Iceland, Latvia, Norway, as well as the Naumburg Cathedral in Germany.

Australia's Barrier Reef in focus

Outside the Bonn venue, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) set up a knitted model of the reef, roughly the height of an adult. The WWF is urging UNESCO to issue a warning to Australia on preserving the reef.

UNESCO is due to announce on Wednesday whether it will place the reef on its list of endangered World Heritage sites, in part because of shipping and port expansions along Australia's northeastern coast.

Thegovernment in Canberra has lobbied UNESCO hard not to decide on an endangered listing.

Earlier this year, Greenpeace said 50 percent of the reef's cover had been lost in the last 30 years, saying the reef's outlook was "poor."

ipj/msh (dpa, Reuters, KNA, AFP)

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