Representatives from dozens of countries gathered in Abu Dhabi today to focus on setting up a USD 100-million fund to protect and restore heritage sites threatened by extremism and conflict.
The two-day conference reflects growing international alarm over the destruction of ancient artefacts by Islamic State group jihadists using sledgehammers, bulldozers and explosives.
Another key aim is to establish “refuge zones” around the globe for endangered works of art, according to organisers.
There were calls today by its Emirati, French and UN initiators for joint action to safeguard endangered cultural treasures.
“To succeed, we need to work together… united for heritage,” UNESCO director Irina Bokova told participants.
Protecting heritage “is inseparable from protecting human life”, she said, describing its deliberate destruction as a “war crime”.
On the eve of the meeting, five Nobel prize winners appealed for urgent action to safeguard world heritage sites, pointing to irreparable damage in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Mali.
“Part of our history has been lost forever, with the goal of fanaticism being to undermine our hope for the future,” said the statement from Aung San Suu Kyi, Kofi Annan, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Orhan Pamuk and Mario Vargas Llosa.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization says 55 out of a total of 1,052 global heritage sites are listed as “World Heritage in Danger”.
They include the Crac des Chevaliers castle and the ruins of Palmyra in Syria, the archaeological remains of the Bamiyan Valley in Afghanistan, the Old City of Sanaa in Yemen, and Timbuktu in Mali.
The conference aims to create “a broad coalition of partners connecting the dots between the security, humanitarian and cultural issues with so many organisations and governments” taking part, said Bokova.
Delegates from around 40 countries, including more than a dozen heads of state or government, among them several Gulf monarchs, are attending the gathering, based on an initiative led by France and the United Arab Emirates.
French President Francois Hollande and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, whose countries will be key contributors to the fund, will make closing speeches tomorrow.