Attacks on World Heritage sites a war crime: UNESCO

Attacks on World Heritage sites a war crime: UNESCO

Attacks on World Heritage sites a war crime: UNESCO

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The world’s cultural sites are under a broad attack, according to UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova, speaking at the organization’s 40th World Heritage Committee meeting held in Istanbul late on July 10. 

“World heritage is under attack everywhere, from Mali to Syria. This is war crime,” Bokova said. 
“We should have a strong response. This is a task for UNESCO. We will support all those who are struggling to protect this heritage,” she added. 

The UNESCO chief also said holding the UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting in Istanbul was an expression of support for Turkey after the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) attack on Istanbul’s Atatürk International Airport on July 28, which claimed 45 lives. 

In remarks made in a video message aired at the opening of the committee meeting, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım called on the international community to help UNESCO more in preserving world heritage sites, stressing that conflicts particularly damage cultural sites.

“The international community should contribute more to the work done by UNESCO and should take more responsibility in saving the heritage we have inherited, for the sake of our future generations,” Yıldırım stated.

While wars in several countries “are destroying the historic, natural and cultural values that [past] civilizations have left us … we also continue to destroy the works of our history in the name of civilization and development,” he added.

Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş, meanwhile, said he attached great importance to the meeting, stressing that the municipality “considers UNESCO criteria in every work in the city.” 

 “Despite the fact that we have been investing greatly in Istanbul and the city has a population of 16 million, we are very sensitive about the balance between the city’s practicality and protection,” Topbaş added. 

Lale Ülker, the session head of the meeting, agreed that sustainability of the World Heritage is a major issue. 

“The level of the [World Heritage Fund] has reached alarmingly low levels in recent years because the gap between current resources and the needed amount to implement contracts in a genuine manner has started to grow rapidly,” Ülker said. 

The 40th session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee will end on July 20.        

The three main functions of the committee are to identify and inscribe newly nominated cultural and natural properties on the World Heritage List, to monitor the state of conservation of properties already on the list, and to examine requests for international assistance financed by the World Heritage Fund.