Opinion: Timbuktu tomb attack is an attack on our humanity

July 3rd, 2012

By Irina Bokova, Special for CNN updated 3:38 PM EDT, Mon July 2, 2012

Editor’s note: Irina Bokova is a Bulgarian diplomat and politician who has been Director-General of the U.N. cultural body, UNESCO, since 2009. She is the first woman elected to head the organization, and lists her priorities as working to foster the values of dialogue, diversity, human dignity and human rights.

Paris (CNN) — The Old Mostar Bridge, the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan, and now the Mausoleums of Timbuktu. Once again, culture is under attack.

Militants from the Ansar Dine group, which controls much of northern Mali, have started to destroy Timbuktu’s ancient tombs. In three days, half of the town’s shrines have been destroyed in a display of fanaticism.

In rebel hands since January, Timbuktu has been taken beyond the pale. Mali has gone from one of West Africa’s most stable democracies to a country gripped by chaos, where over 300,000 people have been uprooted.

The destruction of Timbuktu’s shrines adds a moral and cultural crisis to a desperate humanitarian situation. These are not accidents, nor the unfortunate side effects of conflict. This destruction is deliberate, undertaken in cold blood to catch the world’s attention and destroy the last defenses of Malian identity and strength.

This attack is led by a tiny armed minority, who violently imposes its interpretation of a faith on a distraught local community, spoiling centuries of tolerance and exchange.

We must realize what is really going on. There is much more at stake than a handful of structures made of mud and wood — as valuable as they are. Timbuktu is no ordinary town. The fabled “City of 333 Saints,” is an ancient desert crossroads and a historic seat of Islamic learning and faith.

The attack on Timbuktu’s cultural heritage is an attack against this history and the values it carries — values of tolerance, exchange and living together, which lie at the heart of Islam. It is an attack against the physical evidence that peace and dialogue is possible. This is condemned uniformly by religious leaders across the world.

The International Criminal Court calls this a war crime. We call it an attack against humanity. This is an attempt to isolate and exclude, to sever the ties that bind peoples together.

There is no justification for such a wanton destruction. Beyond universal condemnation, we must act to protect our common heritage as one of our most precious assets to build peace and foster mutual understanding in a globalized world.

Islamist militants taking advantage of chaos in Mali

Protecting culture is not a luxury — it is a security issue. Attacks against cultural heritage are attacks against the very identity of communities. They lead to devastation that can be irreparable, with an impact that lasts long after the dust has settled. Attacks on the past make reconciliation much harder in the future.

We know also the power of World Heritage to bring together divided communities and promote international cooperation in difficult contexts. I saw this personally in south-east Europe, for instance, when UNESCO helped rebuild the Old Mostar Bridge in Bosnia Herzegovina, destroyed during the war in the 1990s. UNESCO is also engaged today in restoration work in the Bamiyan Valley of Afghanistan.

As globalization accelerates, people feel ever more the need to protect their identities and sense of belonging. Culture has today a central role in peace building and conflict prevention. This is why it is such an easy target for fanatics.

Forty years ago, the world’s nations came together behind the World Heritage Convention, inspired by the idea that we share a heritage that is universal and that draws all cultures together. Fanatics across the planet will always try to counter this idea. These attacks call on us to renew our commitment to protect culture. Just as 40 years ago, we need a new leap of global solidarity today, starting in Timbuktu.

I call on all parties to stop these tragic and irreversible acts. I am mobilizing UNESCO fully to provide support to the government and people of Mali. I have spoken to the leaders of the country and across the region and called on them to bring all the influence they have to help the people of Mali resolve the current crisis through dialogue.


ICCROM Publication “Protecting Heritage in Times of Conflict”

June 13th, 2012

Contributions of the participants of the International Course on First Aid to Cultural Heritage in Times of Conflict.


UNESCO: Warns Heritage Sites in Mali, Arab World at Risk

May 19th, 2012

by Margaret Besheer

UNITED NATIONS - The United Nations cultural organization, UNESCO, warns that world heritage sites in the West African country of Mali and in the Arab world are at risk of damage and theft as political upheaval sweeps through those states.

Distruction of historical manuscripts

The ancient city of Timbuktu saw its golden age as an Islamic intellectual and spiritual center in the 15th and 16th centuries. Its three great mosques, the Djingareyber, Sankore and Sidi Yahia, still stand as a testament to that time. But now, UNESCO warns, they are under threat from rebel groups, including Tuaregs and the al-Qaida-linked Ansar Dine.

UNESCO Assistant Director-General Francesco Bandarin said Friday that in addition to the mosques and several mausoleums, Timbuktu also has one of the world’s most important collections of ancient manuscripts.

“They have collected in Timbuktu in different collections, mostly private collections, a very large amount, over 30,000 manuscripts that are the most important library of religious and civil life in the Sahara. Also some of them are copied from previous times. It is an extremely important heritage of Islam and history there,” said Bandarin.

He said when the coup d’état began in late March the rebels did not loot the collections. But in mid-April, the situation worsened and some manuscripts were stolen from the Islamic research center in Timbuktu. He said UNESCO does not yet know how extensive the theft was.

UNESCO has warned Mali’s neighbors to be on the look-out for trafficked manuscripts. Bandarin noted that the illegal trade in antiquities worldwide is a $6 billion a year business, so that these treasures often end up on the black market and are sold to private collectors.

He said UNESCO sent a mission to Mali’s capital, Bamako, on Thursday to look into the situation further.

Bandarin says that while the Arab Spring has been good for democracy, it has not necessarily been kind to world heritage sites in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria.

Priceless artifacts, gone

In Libya, he points out that after the revolution ended, a priceless collection of more than 4,000 ancient Greek artifacts was looted from a bank vault in Benghazi.  Some of the items were retrieved in Egyptian markets, but many remain missing.

In Egypt, he says the chaos of the past year has led to a surge in the construction of illegal homes, which can damage ancient sites.

“A site can be destroyed in many forms, and not necessarily by a bomb, it can be destroyed by development of buildings and so on,” noted Bandarin.

In Syria, where anti-government protests led to 15 months of political violence, Bandarin says UNESCO has not had any major reports of damage. But he is concerned about reports that the Syrian military is using the ancient Crac des Chevaliers fortress west of the flashpoint town of Homs, and Salah El-Din Castle east of Latakia as staging grounds for deployments.

He says because of the violence, UNESCO has been unable to send a team in to assess these sites.

For now, he says, UNESCO hopes to “raise the alert” that important world heritage sites are under threat from conflict. He says through public awareness the agency hopes to avert such past tragedies, such as when the Afghan Taliban blew up the two 6th century monumental Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001.


Mali: Ancient Books Stolen

April 17th, 2012

New York Times, April 16, 2012


The United Nations expressed alarm on Monday over the safety of ancient books and documents in the storied city of Timbuktu as reports said that rebels had pillaged and looted the Ahmad Baba Institute of Higher Islamic Studies and Research, as well as other institutions. Many of the archives document Timbuktu’s golden era between the 12th and 15th centuries. Irina Bokova, director general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, appealed to Mali’s neighbors and art collectors to refrain from trying to sell the stolen items and urged warring factions in Mali to respect Timbuktu’s rich history as a “cultural crossroads and center of learning.”

Call to preserve the ancient manuscripts of Timbuktu and Mali

April 11th, 2012

In recent days, fighting in and around Timbuktu has led to serious concerns about the safety of the tens of thousands of ancient manuscripts there. What is in danger is the written legacy attesting to an unprecedented intellectual and cultural expansion over the past centuries. This intellectual capital is a reflection of the continued contribution of Africans to world civilization. It is also a reflection of the pioneering place of Africa in the very foundations of writing and the spiritual and cultural development of mankind. If this heritage were to disappear, the development of African historiography would be seriously compromised and an important part of the world memory would be annihilated.


Given this situation, we address a solemn appeal to the belligerents to respect and protect the cultural heritage property held in Timbuktu, including elements of the World Heritage List of UNESCO and ancient manuscript collections in libraries, in accordance with the International Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the event of conflict.


To sign the petition go to



For more information see  http://www.bu.edu/wara/timbuktu/

ICCROM Training Course First Aid to Cultural Heritage in Times of Conflict

April 9th, 2012

First Aid to Cultural Heritage in Times of Conflict Dates: 24 September — 26 October 2012

Place: Rome, with study visits to other cities in Italy

With the cooperation of

Armed conflicts world wide continue to involve deliberate or accidental damage to cultural heritage. Conflicts result in the weakening of governments and societies and endanger the core values that hold communities together. The protection and recovery of cultural heritage can play a crucial role in rebuilding societies and in overcoming the sense of loss and displacement.

Notwithstanding, in times of conflict, any operation will be delayed as ensuring security and safety of people takes precedence.  As a result, it is essential for the concerned professionals working in these areas to understand how and when to intervene to secure or recover cultural heritage while law enforcement, peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts are under way.

At the end of the course, participants will be able to:

  • Analyze patterns in present-day conflicts, especially in relation to their interactions with cultural heritage;
  • Explore the values associated with cultural heritage and the impact that conflict has on them;
  • Assess and manage risks to cultural heritage in conflict situations;
  • Secure, salvage and stabilize a variety of cultural materials;
  • Take peacetime preparatory action to improve response in times of conflict;
  • Critically examine the applicability of international legal instruments, and of conservation ethics and principles in times of conflict;
  • Communicate successfully with the various actors involved, and work in teams.

The course will comprise of interactive lectures, group activities, practical sessions, simulations, site visits and case studies. Participants will be asked to develop case studies drawing from their own experience and work context.

The course is aimed at those who are actively involved in the protection of cultural heritage within a variety of institutions (libraries, museums, archives, sites, departments of antiquities or archaeology, religious and community centres, etc.). It is also aimed at professionals from humanitarian and cultural aid organizations, as well as military, civilian and civil defense personnel. Those with experience in conflict situations are particularly encouraged to apply.

A maximum of 22 participants will be selected.

Teaching team
International team of professionals identified through ICCROM’s network.

Working language: English.

Course fee: 900 € (Euro).

Travel, accommodation and living expenses
Participants are responsible for their round-trip travel costs to and from Rome, Italy, and for all living expenses. To cover the cost of living, including accommodation, participants should plan for a minimum allowance of 1,800 € (Euro) for the entire duration of the course. Candidates are strongly encouraged to seek financial support from sources such as governmental institutions, employers and funding agencies.

Financial assistance
The organizers may offer financial support to a limited number of selected candidates who have been unable to secure funding from any other sources. Candidates are also advised to contact Italian cultural institutes in their home countries, as some may be able to offer short-term scholarships for research or training activities carried out in Italy.

Please fill out the ICCROM application form and send it together with your personal statement by mail to the contact address below. E-mail applications are encouraged. In the event that it is not possible to provide a scanned version of the necessary photographs and signatures, it will also be necessary to send a paper copy.

Personal Statement: candidates are requested to provide a letter stating clearly the reasons for applying to the course, what they hope to learn from it, and how it will benefit them and their institution, country, or future employer (maximum of 700 words).

FAC 12
Collections Unit - ICCROM
Via di San Michele,13
Tel +39 06 585531
Fax +39 06 58553349

E-mail: aidinconflict (at) iccrom . org

Application deadline: 15 April 2012

This initiative is being organized with the financial support of the Swiss Federal Office of Culture (FOC), and the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities (MiBAC).


Director-General of UNESCO appeals for protection of Syria’s cultural heritage

April 2nd, 2012

The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, today called for the protection of the cultural heritage of Syria.

‘Following a number of media reports that Syria’s cultural heritage is threatened by the current conflict, I wish to express my grave concern about possible damage to precious sites and to call upon all those involved in the conflict to ensure the protection of the outstanding cultural legacy that Syria hosts on its soil.  Damage to the heritage of the country is damage to the soul of its people and its identity.’

Syria’s history extends back over thousands of years. A succession of cultures has left an outstanding wealth of archaeological sites, historic cities, cultural landscapes, monuments and works of art that bear witness to the evolution of human ingenuity. Six Syrian sites - Damascus, Aleppo, Palmyra, Bosra, the Crac des Chevaliers and Saladin’s Castle, the Ancient Villages of Northern Syria - are inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List . Many others are inscribed on the country’s Tentative List, such as Apamea — where a number of journalists report that the Citadel of Madiq is being bombarded.

Earlier this year, UNESCO alerted the Syrian authorities, through their representative at UNESCO, about their responsibility to ensure the protection of cultural heritage. ‘This situation is becoming more crucial by the hour,’ stated the Director-General. ‘I urge the Syrian authorities to respect the international Conventions they have signed, in particular the 1954 Convention for the Protection of Cultural Properties in the Event of Armed Conflict, the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970), and the 1972 World Heritage Convention.

In the framework of the of the 1970 Convention, the Director-General has already contacted the World Customs Organization, INTERPOL, and the specialized heritage police of France and Italy to alert them to objects from Syria that could appear on the international antiquities market. She has also called for the mobilization of all UNESCO’s partners to ensure the safeguarding of this heritage.

‘UNESCO stands ready to assist in assessing reports of damage to the cultural heritage of Syria, including the World Heritage sites, and in preparing plans for their safeguarding, as soon as this becomes possible,” she concluded.


Press release on the looting of El Hibeh Egypt

March 13th, 2012

Massive looting of archaeological sites in Egypt continues as security forces turn a blind eye to thugs plundering Egypt’s cultural heritage.

After Egypt’s revolution, priceless artifacts were stolen from the nation’s world-famous Egyptian Museum in Cairo as well as from innumerable storehouses scattered throughout the country.

Today the continued plundering of archaeological sites, which comprise Egypt’s cultural heritage in its most pristine state, presents an even more critical challenge as sites are often remote and protected by low-paid guards and state security seems unable or unwilling to halt the mayhem.

El Hibeh is one such site. On the east bank of the Nile in a particularly impoverished area of Egypt three hour’s drive south of Cairo, the archaeological site occupies about two square kilometers and includes cemeteries and the ruins of a walled ancient provincial town with a limestone temple, industrial facilities, houses and possible fort and governing residence. The remains date from the late Pharaonic, Graeco-Roman, Coptic and early Islamic periods (approximately 11th century BCE to eighth century CE). Hibeh is of special importance because it is one of very few relatively intact town sites remaining in Egypt and because of its extensive archaeological deposits dating to the Third Intermediate Period, Egypt’s last “Dark Age” and an era particularly poorly known archaeologically.

Eminent University of California, Berkeley archaeologist Dr. Carol Redmount arrived in Egypt in February to continue her archaeological work at the site after obtaining the proper permits from Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities which controls all excavations in the country.

Twenty-four hours before departing for the site her permits were revoked by the provincial police service with no explanation.  Inquiries revealed that a mafia-like gang led by an escaped convicted crminal have been ruthlessly looting the site since at least June 2011.  The Supreme Council of Antiquities has been unable to stop the pillaging despite repeated appeals to local police services.  Open, systematic looting continues on a daily basis as of the writing of this press release.  Dr. Redmount has not been allowed to visit the site nor do any work.

“Hibeh is vitally important to understanding the character of ancient Egypt in the Third Intermediate Period, a very confusing and confused historical era for which only limited archaeological resources exist.  Archaeology is controlled destruction, but looting is obliteration.  It destorys an irreplaceable, nonrenewable cultural resource that belongs to humanity,” says Dr. Redmount.

Redmount’s team of six researchers from UC Berkeley is currently unable to do any of its proposed academic program at Hibeh for which they had received permission from the Egyptian authorities.  This is costing the team tens of thousands of dollars in lost grants.

“Our primary concern of course is the incalculable loss of precious archaeological evidence.  Archaeologists dream of excavating undisturbed or even relatively undisturbed historic sites. We are losing Hibeh for posterity as we speak,” adds Dr. Redmount.

Independent verification of the scale of the looting has been provided by visitors to the site who sent photos to Dr. Redmount, including pictures of looting in progress.


Photographic evidence of the looting is available.

For media inquiries, contact:

1.     Dr.Carol Redmount, Egypt cell: +20-102-043-4999, redmount@berkeley.edu.

2.     Dr. Heidi Saleh, Professor at St. Rosa Junior College, California, who is able to discuss importance of site and has worked at Hibeh, hsaleh@santarosa.edu, tel. +1-707-527-4578.

3.     Mohamed Sherdy, prominent Egyptian politician, spearheading efforts to protect Hibeh and other sites, m.sherdy@editorpr.com, tel. +202-333-81069, mob. +20-100-559-9559.

4.     For Arabic media contacts: Amir Bibawy, Egyptian-American journalist, +20-120-706-7555 or +1-202-329-9169.

More pictures and details can be found at the Save El Hibeh Egypt Facebook page and at http://neareastern.berkeley.edu/hibeh/index.htm.


Vienna in April! General Assembly of the Association of National Committees of the Blue Shield

February 20th, 2012

A General Assembly of the Association of National Committees of the Blue Shield will take place 25-27 April, 2012, in Vienna, Austria.  All those interested in the activities of the Blue Shield are welcome.  The program will begin with a field exercise on the first day in the morning. The second day is reserved for elections, reports and round tables. The third day is also intended for a field exercise.

We recommend that you arrange your arrival as early as the 24th, where we plan to host a welcome reception in the evening. We invite you to consider using the long weekend for an enjoyable stay in Vienna. Hotel information will be provided as soon as possible.

Lecture “Beyond the Iraq Museum: Protecting our Cultural Heritage in Times of Crisis”

January 30th, 2012


When Monday, February 6, 2012, 12 – 1pm
Where DePaul Center
1 E Jackson Blvd
Chicago, IL 60604
Contact Name Cecelia Story
Contact Email cstory@depaul.edu
Building/Room DePaul Center
Continuing Legal Education No
Building/Room Number Room 8005
Event Sub-Title Arts Law Colloquium Series with Corine Wegener
Speakers Corine Wegener, Associate Curator, Minneapolis Institute of Arts; President, U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield
Description The tragic looting of the Iraq National Museum in 2003 shocked cultural heritage professionals into action and led to the U.S. ratification of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict in 2009. Natural disasters, global climate change, and political instability also continue to place our cultural heritage at risk around the globe. As a response to these events, Minneapolis Institute of Arts curator and former military officer Cori Wegener founded the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield in 2006. Part of an international network, USCBS is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting cultural property during armed conflict and natural disasters. Wegener will provide a slide presentation about her experience with the Iraq National Museum and describe the current state of efforts to protect our shared cultural heritage in times of crisis.
Primary Sponsor Center for Intellectual Property Law & Information Technology
Other Sponsor(s) Center for Art, Museum & Cultural Heritage Law

Please email Cecelia Story at cstory@depaul.edu to RSVP for this event.

Link www.law.depaul.edu…