UNESCO condemns ‘barbaric’ ISIL attacks on heritage sites
BERLIN - Agence France-PresseThe United Nations cultural organization has condemned the “barbaric assaults” the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group launched on World Heritage sites in Iraq and Syria, saying they may amount to war crimes.
Meeting in Bonn, Germany, UNESCO delegates said the ISIL attacks on sites such as Iraq’s ancient city of Hatra recalled the “mindless destruction” by other Islamist extremists in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, in Mali’s Timbuktu and elsewhere.
The U. N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization said “intentional attacks against buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science or charitable purposes and historic monuments may amount to war crimes.”
Hüseyin Avni Botsalı, the permanent ambassador of Turkey to UNESCO, also criticized the violence against the cultural heritage.
It might look impossible to compare a threat against human life and cultural assets. However, incidents show that those culprit terrorist elements and powers that target humanity are also in an immodest effort to remove the civilization and cultural properties,” the envoy said.
In April, ISIL released a video in which militants can be seen using rifles and sledgehammers to destroy artefacts at Hatra. Earlier the militants also damaged the site of Iraq’s ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud and destroyed dozens of pieces from the museum in Mosul.
The U.N. body also expressed its “deep concern” that ISIL militants could destroy the World Heritage site of Palmyra in Syria, which they captured in May and have extensively mined.
UNESCO said that World Heritage sites in conflict-torn Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Syria and Yemen also faced heightened threats through “illegal excavations, organized looting and trafficking of cultural objects.”
UNESCO stressed it denounces the destruction and looting of cultural objects “used as a tactic of war and as a source to fund terrorism”, calling for steps against the illegal trade of antiquities and heritage objects from conflict areas.
UNESCO is meeting in Bonn for its 39th committee session until July 8 and will consider at least 36 natural and cultural sites vying to get World Heritage status.