“We must stand together to defend our shared cultural heritage because this is defending the humanity we hold in common, this is defending who we are and where we are going."
So said the UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova in her speech to the Seminar on Culture under Attack and Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Objects, held during Almedalen Week in Sweden, on 7 July, 2016.
The seminar was arranged by the Swedish National Commission for UNESCO and the Swedish National Heritage Board, with participation of the Minister for Culture and Democracy, Ms Alice Bah Kuhnke, Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, Director-General of SIDA, and Lars Amréus, Director-General of Swedish National Heritage Board.
Almedalen Week is Sweden’s major annual political gathering of political parties, government and political leaders, as well as media.
“Culture has always been the victim of war -- as collateral damage, from direct targeting, from looting,” said Irina Bokova. “What we see today is new -- in scale and nature.”
She pointed to systematic violations of human rights, the persecution of people on ethnic and religious grounds, as well as the intentional destruction of irreplaceable landmarks, and the organized looting for illicit trafficking -- all of this as part of the same deliberate strategy of ‘cultural cleansing.’
In response, defending cultural heritage and the fight against illicit trafficking have become humanitarian imperatives and security issues, as well as essential factors for long-term recovery and development.
Minister Bah Kuhnke laid emphasis on the plurality of identities today and the common heritage shared by all women and men.
"This is linked to vital concepts of inclusive identities and cohesive societies, which are essential today," said the Minister.
Ms Petri Gornitzka underlined the essential role of defending and rebuilding heritage in and after conflict situations.
"This is essential for identities and empowerment, to build the basis for hope in the future -- this is key to reconciliation," she said, underlining the opportunity in the 2030 Agenda to integrate culture deeply into development and humanitarian efforts.
“We are connecting the dots between peace operations, humanitarian emergency responses, and other actions undertaken for heritage,” Irina Bokova said, pointing to the agreement with the International Committee for the Red Cross, to integrate culture into humanitarian operations, and with Italy to establish a Task Force.
All of this is part of efforts to build a broad coalition to support States, introduce new laws, bolster institutions and capacity -- to lead implementation of the Security Council Resolution 2199 on the financing of terrorism.
Irina Bokova thanked Sweden for its leadership, expressed in the personal engagement of the Minister for Culture and Democracy, Ms Alice Bah Kuhnke. She also highlighted the vital support of SIDA to all UNESCO's action.
“We must stand together, to defend the diversity that enriches us and the human rights that unite us," she said, starting as early as possible, with education for global citizenship, and by engaging young people through new media with campaigns for humanity as a single community.
"Join #unite4heritage!" she said.