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Gulf gathering aims to protect endangered heritage

  • Published at 03:59 pm November 30th, 2016
Gulf gathering aims to protect endangered heritage

Experts and government delegates from around the world will gather in the Gulf on Friday, seeking to build a global alliance to protect cultural heritage threatened by extremism and conflict.

The "Safeguarding Endangered Cultural Heritage" conference is an initiative by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, and French President Francois Hollande. It will be held under the patronage of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) at the Emirates Palace.

France and the United Arab Emirates are leading the initiative at a conference in Abu Dhabi to establish an international partnership that could respond to dangers such as Islamic State group jihadists rampaging through ancient sites in Iraq and Syria.

Appalling footage of IS using sledgehammers, bulldozers and explosives to erase ancient cultural sites – some of them millennia-old – that they deemed un-Islamic have spurred the calls for action.

The proposed partnership would include governments, public institutions, private groups, non-governmental organisations and experts.

The gathering will include French President Francois Hollande, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, Unesco director Irina Bokova and representatives of some 40 nations.

It comes "in response to the growing threats to some of the world's most important cultural resources arising from sustained periods of armed conflicts, acts of terrorism and illicit trafficking of cultural property", organisers said.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation says that 55 out of a total of 1,052 heritage sites around the world are now listed as World Heritage in Danger.

Round-table forums will focus on three themes – prevention, emergency protection and post-conflict rehabilitation.

The conference aims to create an international Geneva-based fund of $100m, according to French authorities behind the initiative.

[caption id="attachment_37360" align="aligncenter" width="800"]This picture taken on November 6, 2016 shows Afghan archeological guard, Hakim Safam standing in front of the reconstructed foot of the Salsal Buddha, which was 58 metres high before being destroyed by the Taliban in 2001, in Bamiyan province. remains of the Buddha statues which were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001, are kept by UNESCO on the site in Bamiyan province.    For centuries they stood, two monumental ancient statues of Buddha carved into the cliffs of Bamiyan, loved and revered by generations of Afghans --  only to be pulverised by the Taliban in an act of cultural genocide. / AFP PHOTO / ANNE CHAON / TO GO WITH AFP STORY: 'Afghanistan-Unrest-Archaeology-Culture-Buddhas' ; Feature by Anne CHAON This picture taken on November 6, 2016 shows Afghan archeological guard, Hakim Safam standing in front of the reconstructed foot of the Salsal Buddha, which was 58 metres high before being destroyed by the Taliban in 2001, in Bamiyan province. AFP[/caption]

'Refuge zones' for art

France and the United Arab Emirates will be key contributors to the fund that would help cover the cost of transporting, safeguarding and restoring affected monuments – including using 3D reconstruction.

France will contribute $30m to the fund, former culture minister Jack Lang, who heads the Paris-based Institut du Monde Arabe, said on Tuesday.

Another aim is to establish "refuge zones" around the globe for endangered works of art, a source close to organisers said.

"Just as there is a right for asylum (for refugees)... we should also have asylum rights for artefacts," Hollande said in an address at the Metropolitan Museum in New York in September.

On November 1, he announced a safekeeping facility due to open in northern France in 2019, which in addition to housing the Louvre Museum's stored collection, could also be a refuge for endangered artworks.

The facility will have "another role, sadly linked to the events, dramas and tragedies which may unfold in the world, wherever works of art are in danger because terrorists, because barbarians have decided to destroy them... (especially) in Syria and Iraq," Hollande said.

He said France will make the proposal during the Abu Dhabi conference.


The Louvre Abu Dhabi, whose delayed opening is now expected in 2017, "could also become a refuge zone" for endangered artefacts, a French official said.

How to safeguard works of arts would depend on the governments of the countries involved, but the UN Security Council could be drawn in to establish general guidelines based on international law, French officials say.

Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and Afghanistan's Ashraf Ghani are expected to be among the heads of state attending the two-day conference. Both their countries have seen cultural heritage destroyed by extremist Islamists.

Oil-rich Abu Dhabi is investing billions of dollars to establish a thriving cultural scene with several museums including a branch of the Guggenheim, as well as the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

The UAE, considered less conservative compared with its Gulf peers, applies a zero-tolerance approach towards radical Islamism.

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