UN agency urgently appeals again to save Iraq’s cultural heritage

15 April 2003

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reiterated its call today for the urgent protection of Iraq’s cultural heritage following widespread looting of museums and libraries, and it prepared to send a mission of experts for an on-site evaluation of the most pressing needs.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reiterated its call today for the urgent protection of Iraq’s cultural heritage following widespread looting of museums and libraries, and it prepared to send a mission of experts for an on-site evaluation of the most pressing needs.

After heavy losses to cultural treasures, notably in Baghdad, Mosul and Tikrit, the agency will also host a meeting of 30 leading experts on Thursday at its headquarters in Paris to attempt a preliminary evaluation of the state of the cultural heritage of the country often described as the "cradle of civilization." The meeting will seek to establish a priority action plan to safeguard this heritage, which dates back thousands of years.

“I reiterate my urgent call to take immediate measures of protection and surveillance of Iraqi cultural institutions to which libraries and archives belong," UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura said today.

Mr. Matsuura, who already last week urged authorities from the United Kingdom and United States to preserve Iraq’s archaeological treasures, warned that the devastation and looting of libraries and archives could have irreversible consequences for maintaining and strengthening the country's cultural identity.

“Libraries, archives and manuscripts must be preserved as essential parts of the rich heritage of Iraq. Libraries are the essence of knowledge societies,” he said. “Nearly twenty centuries of written history of mankind are in danger; everything must be done to protect them from looting and destruction.”

He also said that measures must be taken to protect governmental records in the archives, as they were vital for the post-war administration to protect the legal, financial and contractual rights of Iraqi citizens.

Following Thursday’s meeting, conditions permitting, UNESCO will send a mission of experts to Iraq to assess museums, monuments and the main heritage sites in order to identify the most urgent needs. It will also evaluate the capacity of local authorities to rehabilitate the cultural heritage, identify Iraqi and international partners and to draw up a plan of action and a strategy to raise the necessary funds.

 

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