France backs protection of cultural heritage during conflicts

United Nations – Protection of cultural heritage in armed conflicts – Statements to the press by Mme Audrey Azoulay, Minister of Culture and Communication, before the UNSC meeting¹

New York, 24 March 2017

THE MINISTER – This morning’s meeting of the Security Council is very important for us because, on the joint proposal of Italy and France, the whole Security Council is going to discuss for the first time the issue of cultural heritage endangered during armed conflict. It’s already spoken about the issue, but in a more limited way, and now it’s going to discuss it comprehensively for the first time.

It’s an issue particularly close to our hearts in France. That’s why I wanted to be here this morning. It’s an issue being championed directly by the French President, because we’re well aware that when cultural heritage is attacked, in addition to the attack on civilians, their memory is being targeted, their history is being targeted and cultural diversity is being targeted. And on top of the large-scale physical attacks targeting people, it’s also an attack on their past, their present and also the possibility of a future. It’s an issue we’re making very great efforts on, and I hope this Security Council resolution can be adopted this morning, because it’s an issue that deserves it.

Q. – The UN is already having difficulties on the ground as regards, for example, Mali and the fight against terrorism, and the protection of civilians; how could it also deal with protecting heritage?

THE MINISTER – I think you absolutely mustn’t pit one issue against the other. In reality, the two issues are linked and we must fight on both those fronts. It’s about the same thing. And the UN can also draw on a whole network that already exists. And the first way of dealing with the issue is to rely on UNESCO, which is there for that, and which is – to quote Léon Blum – “the conscience of the United Nations”. UNESCO can also take action through a number of other initiatives that must be better coordinated. That’s also the purpose of this resolution. I’m thinking of the different funds that exist, particularly the fund we’ve just created in line with the Abu Dhabi conference held in December 2016, where the decision was taken to create an international protection fund and a network of safe havens for endangered cultural property.

To pick up on the issue of finance and a financial tool, this financial tool has now been created, and it was provided with finance only last Monday at the Louvre, at an initial donors’ conference which enabled $75 million to be raised already. France played its full role, because it pledged to pay $30 million to the fund.

So we must use the different tools that exist, coordinate them, take action and, of course, take action at the same time for security. Precisely because it’s also a security issue, it’s legitimate for the Security Council to fully deal with this issue.

Q. – You were speaking about the fund. Can you tell us: what will the fund be used for? And to follow up on the previous question, there already are peacekeepers on the ground defending populations, and now you are adding another item to the mandate. How do they gérer [handle] all of that ?

THE MINISTER – As I said, the international fund has now gathered more than $75 million, and we are going to launch an appeal for projects and initiatives in the second semester of this year, because there are many projects on the ground with archaeologists, people and teams trying to protect cultural heritage, sometimes at the peril of their lives, and we have to help these initiatives. So the fund will be operational at the end of this year.

On the peacekeepers’ mandate, both mandates are not contradictory. It is quite the opposite. You have to protect both the civilian populations and their cultural heritage, because attacking cultural heritage is also an attack on cultural diversity, on the past of these millenniums [i.e. ancient] civilizations. In order for these people to have a future once the conflicts are over, they have to gather themselves, to reunite around this cultural heritage. So both aims are totally linked: to protect civilian populations and to protect cultural heritage and diversity.

Q. – A word on places where there is a total lack of security, like Syria?

THE MINISTER – During conflicts, this resolution, if adopted, provides tools and guidelines for all parties in armed conflicts in order to protect cultural heritage. Of course sometimes it will be very difficult on the ground, but it is rules that the parties will have to follow. Also, before the conflicts, there is a responsibility for states to protect cultural heritage, sometimes to protect them in safe havens. And after the conflicts there will be international help with funding in order to protect cultural heritage./.

¹Mme Azoulay spoke in French and English. Source of English excerpts: French Foreign Ministry.

Published on 07/04/2017

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