ABU DHABI // Forty countries approved a US$100 million fund to protect cultural heritage sites in places of conflict, at a landmark conference in Abu Dhabi yesterday.
Heads of state and representatives from more than 40 countries attended the two-day, Unesco-backed Safeguarding Endangered Cultural Heritage summit.
They included Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, and French president Francois Hollande.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and Mr Hollande called for global unity to protect heritage from terrorism and illicit trafficking, as the Abu Dhabi Declaration was approved.
“This conference presents a very important opportunity to join efforts and to cooperate with the international community to protect national heritage that is increasingly threatened,” the Crown Prince said.
“As a result of civil wars and conflicts and the destruction of heritage sites by terrorists groups, and the illicit trafficking by groups that aim to obliterate the international heritage of humanity, this conflict is rejected by all divine religions and human nature.”
Mr Hollande spoke about the destruction of several sites, from Afghanistan to Mali, that prompted the declaration.
“While destroying this, terrorism is going against the diversity of civilisations and therefore against the unity of the human race, because we are rich in our difference and this is our wealth,” he said. “This is why France and the UAE wanted to act without delay.”
The fund will help to pay for preventive and emergency operations, fight illegal trafficking of artefacts and contribute to restoring damaged cultural property.
France offered $30m and other countries have made pledges to achieve the $100m target, which will also be used to improve border security to limit black market movement of antiquities.
The declaration also creates an international network of safe havens to temporarily safeguard cultural property endangered by armed conflicts or terrorism.
If the property cannot be secured domestically, a neighbouring country – or as a last resort, non-neighbouring – can take measures in accordance with international law at the request of the concerned governments, taking into account national and regional characteristics.
Mr Hollande said France would set an example by making the Louvre museum’s storeroom available to countries encountering conflict that needed to protect their antiquities.
He called for more museums to do the same.
Countries are also called on to condemn illicit trafficking of cultural heritage artefacts. Those attending called for new tools to better protect culture, including better documentation of artefacts through workshops and 3-D images of sites.
The fund will also finance the rehabilitation of destroyed heritage sites and provide emergency evacuation funds for artefacts.
Mr Hollande said the international community had already demonstrated in Cambodia and Bosnia that it could rehabilitate monuments destroyed by war.
“This is what we can do to ensure that equal cultural dignity is ensured and to send a message of peace and humanity,” he said.
“It is here in the Middle East that humanity built the first cities, developed the written word. Here is where it laid down the law.”
The Middle East faces difficulties posed by some who want to destroy this heritage and use religion to divide, said Mr Hollande.
“We are here to save what past generations left us to ensure that the past and the future can meet for a beautiful world,” the French leader said.
Other leaders who attended the conference included Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah, emir of Kuwait; Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, president of Yemen; Ashraf Ghani, president of Aghanistan; Ibrahim Keita, president of Mali; and Fayez Al Sarraj, prime minister of the Libyan Government of National Accord.