Director-General of UNESCO discusses with Spain's Foreign Minister the protection of cultural heritage in Iraq and Syria‎

30 March, 2015, on her visit to Valencia, Spain, to attend the International Experts Meeting on a Code of Ethics for the Safeguarding of intangible ‎cultural heritage, the UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova held a bilateral meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Spain, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo.

The Director-General informed the Foreign Minister about her recent visit to Baghdad to reaffirm UNESCO's determination to stand by the national authorities and the people of Iraq in their fight to protect their cultural heritage. She highlighted the recent launch, together with the Prime Minister of Iraq, the Ministers of Higher Education and of Tourism and Antiquities, of the UNESCO campaign #Unite4Heritage‎ to mobilize young people in Iraq and across the world to express solidarity and engage them in a global movement to stand for the protection of the cultural heritage of humanity against destruction.

Foreign Minister Garcia-Margallo informed the Director-General about the Ministerial Open Debate held by the Security Council on 2‎7 March, ‎on the subject of attacks and abuses of minorities on ethnic or religious grounds in the Middle East,‎ presided over by the French Foreign Minister‎ Laurent Fabius, addressing‎ the situation of persecuted minorities in the Middle East and mobilizing the international community for the protection of cultural and religious diversity in the region.

He stressed Spain's continued determination to address the protection of cultural heritage in conflict situations together with the protection of ethnic and religious minorities. In that context, he commended the Director-General for her personal commitment against "cultural cleansing," underlining the progress achieved through the adoption by the Security Council of Resolution 2199, which is a landmark in the fight against destruction and the illicit trafficking of cultural heritage in Iraq and Syria.

He also evoked the need to achieve greater synergies amongst current widespread initiatives fostering intercultural and intereligious dialogue.

Referring to the current persecution of ethnic and religious minorities in the Middle East, notably the Christian minorities, he called for ‎enhanced measures to fight against impunity, in particular through greater legal and judicial cooperation between countries and the strengthening of legal instruments in the context of the International Criminal Court indicating Spain's determination in this context.

The Director-General informed Minister Garcia-Margallo of UNESCO's leadership in fostering the ratification of the 1954 and 2 Protocols, and 1970 ‎UNESCO Conventions, respectively on the protection of cultural heritage in the event of armed conflict, and the fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural property. Irina Bokova pointed also to the ongoing cooperation with the General Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, notably with regard to the destruction of cultural heritage in Mali. Foreign Minister Garcia-Margallo expressed his country's intention to associate UNESCO in pursuing its engagement in the normative area.

The Director-General and the Foreign Minister also exchanged views more broadly on the situation in the‎ Middle East and in Ukraine.

Minister Garcia-Margallo concluded the meeting by thanking the Director-General for her presence in Valencia, embodying UNESCO's support to Spain's strong commitment for the safeguarding of its rich intangible cultural heritage, ‎and he expressed his country's full support for the nomination of Las Fallas on UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage List in the very near future.‎