Abu Dhabi conference calls for heritage protection in conflict areas

December 7, 2016

Safeguarding Endangered Cultural Heritage” Abu Dhabi conferenceRepresentatives from over 40 nations met in Abu Dhabi, UAE from 2 – 3 December to join in a “common determination to safeguard the endangered cultural heritage of all peoples, against its destruction and illicit trafficking.”

The “Safeguarding Endangered Cultural Heritage” conference featured a high-level roster of guests and speakers, including UNESCO’s Director-General, Irina Bokova, and heads of state from Africa, the MENA region and Europe.

The attendees were welcomed by François Hollande, President of France, and by His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.  France and the United Arab Emirates jointly organized the conference.

The Abu Dhabi Declaration, the outcome of the conference, sets forth two ambitious international efforts – a fund to protect cultural heritage in conflict zones, and a network of museums to serve as safe havens for artworks and archaeological objects from regions endangered by conflict.

The fund has been established with a first contribution by France of 30 million dollars, and an initial fundraising goal of 100 million dollars.

Underlining the importance of these international efforts, Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan affirmed, “The world has a shared responsibility for protecting human cultural heritage.”

President Hollande noted further, “This Fund will provide much needed resources to protect heritage under attack, and will be managed in close coordination with UNESCO, in respect of UNESCO cultural conventions and international norms.”

For her part, UNESCO’s Director-General Irina Bokova said, “This initiative and the creation of this Fund break new ground. It sends a powerful signal of hope and I see this as the starting point of something larger – a new commitment for culture, education, human dignity.”

Safeguarding Endangered Cultural Heritage” conferenceRepresenting ICCROM, Zaki Aslan, Director of the ICCROM-ATHAR Regional Conservation Centre in Sharjah, placed emphasis on a multi-stakeholder approach in the preservation of heritage sites.  “The overall approach has to be multi-sectoral and people-centred, said Aslan. “We should foster links with established networks and communities in order to engage them in transition and peace building through cultural heritage protection and recovery.”

As an intergovernmental organization, ICCROM has a mandate to develop and promote best conservation practices.  Its First Aid in Times of Crisis (FAC) course, first given in 2010, has substantially developed national capacities in the field of heritage protection in times of conflict and crisis.  International and regional editions of ICCROM’s FAC course have helped form national teams such as the Egyptian Heritage Rescue Team, in existence since 2014.  ICCROM is working towards similar successful experiences, in the Arab region and worldwide.

The recent establishment of a regional ICCROM office in Sharjah, UAE, supported by His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, has also helped tackle these problems throughout the Middle East and North Africa, said Aslan.

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