On 13 September 2017, UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova addressed the opening session of the Blue Shield International General Assembly, held in Vienna, Austria, in the presence of the Vice-Mayor of Vienna, Johann Gudenus and the Interim President of the Blue Shield International, Mr Karl von Habsburg-Lothringen.
“UNESCO and Blue Shield International share a common goal,” declared the Director-General addressing the Public Plenary Session.
“We seek to protect cultural property, and, by extension, humanity’s cultural legacy,” she continued underscoring that this is more than a cultural issue, “This is about renewing the basic tools for peace building and security.”
The Director-General took stock of all the progress made since UNESCO’s 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict ratified by 128 States Parties, including by the United Kingdom most recently.
“This is true testament to a new global recognition of the role of cultural heritage in modern conflict, and our role is to transform this new consciousness into effective networks, law enforcement tools and concrete protection measures,” said Irina Bokova, recalling recent programmes led by UNESCO to train military officials, police forces and customs professionals in this area.
During the Ceremony, Colonel Keba Sangare (Mali) and Major Corine Wegener (USA) received the Blue Shield International award for their outstanding commitment to the protection of heritage. President Karl von Habsburg described notably how during the battle for Timbuktu in 2015, Colonel Keba Sangare decided not to call the air force and pursue the battle on the ground to defeat violent extremist so as not to inflict severe damage upon the great most of the City. “This is forbidden by international law,” he said at the time. “The 1954 Convention is not only international law, it is part of humanitarian law and of law of war,” said the President of Blue Shield, and to defeat violent extremism, we need to do so through the means of international law.
“We have come a long way since 1954, and yet, now more than ever, we need to strive for peace,” said Irina Bokova, calling for stronger coordination amongst all actors, and for deeper cooperation between the military, the judicial, humanitarian and cultural experts.
Addressing the recent listing of the historic center of Vienna on the World Heritage list in danger, the Director-General recalled the importance of the City as “the heart of European spirit and culture”, and expressed UNESCO’s readiness to work with Austria to implement the recommendation of the World Heritage Committee, to ensure the heritage of the city is transmitted to future generations.