Abu Dhabi Declaration on heritage at risk in the context of armed conflicts
On Saturday, 3 December 2016, the Abu Dhabi Declaration was adopted at the close of the International Conference on Safeguarding Cultural Heritage in Conflict Areas (2-3 December 2016). ICOMOS was represented at the conference by its Director General Marie-Laure Lavenir and by Samir Abdulac, Chairman of ICOMOS Working Group for the safeguarding of cultural heritage in Syria and Iraq (and neighbouring countries).
Declaration text adopted by the representatives of more than fourty States, International and private organizations among which UNESCO:
"As a mirror of mankind, a guardian of our collective memory and a witness to the extraordinary creative spirit of humanity, world cultural heritage represents the foundation of our common future.
Today, armed conflicts and terrorism, across all continents are affecting millions of men and women, without sparing their centuries-old heritage. Extremists violently – and often deliberately – attack the cultures of the countries of the people they devastate, seeking to destroy the heritage which belongs to us all.
Threatening, attacking, destroying, and looting heritage represents a strategy to weaken the very foundations of the identity of peoples, their history, and the environment in which they build their lives. Without this heritage, their memory is erased and their future is compromised.
Heritage, in all its diversity, is a source of collective wealth that encourages dialogue. It is a vehicle for closer relations, tolerance, freedom, and respect. Its destruction is a threat to peace, as is the illicit trafficking of cultural property that often emerges in times of crisis.
Therefore, as Heads of States and Governments, and their Representatives, International Organizations and Private Institutions, we are gathered here, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, to reaffirm our common determination to safeguard the endangered cultural heritage of all peoples, against its destruction and illicit trafficking. We have decided to collectively join forces.
We commend the call made by the Director General of UNESCO and express support for the Global Coalition “Unite for Heritage,” launched to protect our shared heritage from destruction and trafficking. We welcome the “Strategy for the Reinforcement of UNESCO’s Actions for the Protection of Culture and Promotion of Cultural Pluralism in the Event of Armed Conflict.”
We need to ensure respect for universal values, in line with the international conventions of The Hague of 1899, 1907, 1954, and the latter 1954 and 1999 Protocols, which require us to protect human life, as well as cultural property in times of armed conflict. This process has to be carried out in close liaison with UNESCO, which has worked tirelessly since 1954 to protect heritage, to combat illicit trafficking, and to promote culture as an instrument to bring people closer together and foster dialogue.
In the spirit of universality and the principles of the UNESCO conventions, we are committed to pursuing two ambitious, long term, goals to guarantee the further mobilization of the international community for the safeguarding of heritage:
The creation of an international fund for the protection of endangered cultural heritage in armed conflict, which would help finance preventive and emergency operations, fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural artefacts, as well as contribute to the restoration of damaged cultural property.
The creation of an international network of safe havens to temporarily safeguard cultural property endangered by armed conflicts or terrorism on their own territory, or if they cannot be secured at a national level, in a neighbouring country, or as a last resort, in another country, in accordance with international law at the request of the governments concerned, and taking into account the national and regional characteristics and contexts of cultural property to be protected.
At this conference, we, as Heads of States and Governments, and their Representatives, International Organizations and Private Institutions unite for heritage in support of international efforts to safeguard cultural heritage threatened by armed conflicts and terrorism. A follow up conference in 2017 will help assess the implementation of the initiatives launched in Abu Dhabi and the first projects financed by the international fund.
We recognize the eminent role of the United Nations and its institutions, and particularly of UNESCO, as the only UN organization mandated for the protection of culture, and call upon the United Nations Security Council to support us in achieving these goals, in full accordance with the United Nations Charter."
Photo: Palmyra © Goldring, Nancy / ICOMOS