Two key UN agencies and some countries on Sunday joined Interpol to launch a major new initiative to enhance the protection of cultural heritage targeted by terrorists and illicit traffickers against a backdrop of a sharp rise of terrorist attacks and destruction of cultural heritage in armed conflict.
The initiative, known as the "Protecting Cultural Heritage -- An Imperative for Humanity," was presented at UN Headquarters in New York by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Italy and Jordan, with the participation of principals from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Interpol and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), as well as ministers from various member states.
The initiative will follow up on resolutions and decisions adopted by the UN Security Council, the UN General Assembly and other international bodies.
The event took place here as a host of world leaders gathered for a UN development summit, which concluded Sunday, and annual high-level debate of the UN General Debate, which is to kick off here Monday morning.
"Culture is on the frontline of conflict -- we must place it at the heart of peacebuilding," said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova.
For his part, the executive director of UNODC, Yury Fedotov, said it was important to address trafficking and the destruction of cultural property as "crimes that strike at the very core of our civilization and heritage."
"Cultural heritage is a reflection of human history, civilization and the coexistence of multiple peoples and their ways of life," said Paolo Gentiloni, the Italian minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation. "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, the deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs of Jordan.
There has been a sharp increase in terrorist attacks and destruction of cultural heritage of countries affected by armed conflict, as well as the illicit trafficking and sale of cultural objects.
These acts not only generate income for terrorist groups in the Middle East and beyond, but also constitute a tactic of war.
Meanwhile, Mireille Ballestrazzi, the president of Interpol, highlighted 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 UN member states, international organizations and partners wishing to join forces in support of the protection of cultural heritage from destruction and/or illicit trafficking.