UN Says Attacks on Heritage Sites Could Be War Crimes

The U.N. Security Council on Friday unanimously adopted a resolution condemning the destruction of cultural heritage sites and warned that attacks such as those carried out in recent years by al-Qaida, Islamic State and other terror groups could constitute war crimes.

The 15-member council singled out terrorist attacks on historic monuments like the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, whose most precious artistic and architectural treasures were demolished in several waves of attacks since 2015 by IS militants.

The resolution condemned those who attack sites devoted to religion, art, science and education, and it urged international cooperation on investigations and prosecutions to bring those responsible to justice.

The measure strengthens previous resolutions that condemned illicit trafficking in looted cultural items.

Audrey Azoulay, France’s minister of culture and communications, said: “This resolution makes the link between the financing of terrorist groups and the trafficking of cultural goods. It strengthens the operational tools in place to deal with this issue over previous resolutions of this Security Council.”

Azoulay cited the destruction of several landmarks and artifacts, including giant stone Buddha statues in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, that were mutilated and blown up by al-Qaida, and priceless manuscripts in Mali’s ancient city of Timbuktu that were ransacked by militants linked to al-Qaida.

She also spoke about a statue of human-headed bulls destroyed last year by Islamic State extremists in Nimrud, Iraq, capital of the ancient Assyrian empire. “Deliberate attacks on human heritage are born of a desire to obliterate from memory, to reject the past, to strip history of its meaning and lessons,” the French minister said.

Irina Bokova, head of the U.N cultural agency UNESCO, hailed the resolution as “historic.”

“For us, for UNESCO, it is quite clear that protection of heritage is the best way to create a resilience in societies, to recognize the past but also to look for the future, because it is so strongly linked with identities,” Bokova said.

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