The global university, education and research community came together at the Global Consortium for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage, at the University of Bocconi in Milan, Italy, on 25 September, to identify key areas of action for the sustainable preservation of cultural heritage, aiming at assuring its appropriate safeguarding and restoration while promoting and respecting its significance.
“Culture in modern conflicts has become a target for terrorists, and the deliberate destruction of heritage has become a tactic of war to undermine societies, shock individuals, and crush any sense of belonging,” declared UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova in her opening remarks.
“This destruction is inseparable from the persecution of people, in a global strategy of cultural cleansing, which seeks to spread radicalization and accelerates the disintegration of societies over the very long term,” she continued noting that if violent extremists understand the power of heritage and culture in social resilience, we can too.
“We cannot defeat violent extremism with hard power and military action only,” said the Director-General – highlighting the need for a multidimensional force, based on international cooperation in education, science, culture and freedom of expression, in response to threats based on distorted visions of history and manipulation of faith. In this spirit, she recalled the adoption by the UN Security Council of several historic Resolutions. Resolution 2347 in March this year, recognizing for the first time the crucial role culture plays in sustainable strategies for building peace. Resolutions 2199 (adopted in 2015) to fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property as a source of financing for terrorism, and 2379 (adopted last week) on Da’esh Accountability and the preservation of evidence of crimes and mass atrocities in Iraq. It underscores the link between the destruction of heritage and attacks on human lives, further recognizing the importance of heritage protection.
“It is clear that the conservation of cultural heritage in the 21rst century can no longer be about stones and buildings only – this is about protecting people, social cohesion and belonging,” said Mr Stefan Simon, of the Yale University Institute for the preservation of Heritage.
“The protection of heritage, and even more importantly, the transmission of its message, is a pillar of any effective strategy for peace today,” continued Irina Bokova. “This is how I see the importance of this Consortium to UNESCO, and the importance of our cooperation with universities. Our role and duty is to transform this new consciousness into effective networks, into law enforcement tools and into concrete protection measures on the ground, closer to the people. For this, we need to build stronger networks, bringing together experts and professionals from different background, beyond the classical “culture box”.
The Global Consortium for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage was established in 2016 to enable the global university, education and research community to make a transformative contribution to the preservation of cultural heritage, through broad educational programs, major collaborative research initiatives, and an effective advocacy effort. The mission and strategy of the Consortium was conveyed in the New Haven Declaration in 2016.