24 March 2017 - Protection of Cultural Heritage: Historic milestone for the protection of cultural heritage [fr]

Security Council Ministerial Debate on the Protection of Cultural Heritage
Speech by Mrs Audrey Azoulay, Minister of Culture and Communication
24 March 2017

(Unofficial translation)

Mr. Under-Secretary-General,
Executive Director,
Distinguished delegates and participants,

I welcome the unanimous adoption of resolution 2347 which represents a historic milestone in our common struggle to safeguard endangered heritage.

We are here this morning at the Security Council, at the heart of this international city that symbolizes modernity, “In the Shadow of No Towers,” to quote the title of the album by Art Spiegelman. But we are also here this morning - given the purpose of our meeting - in the lost shadow of the Buddhas of Bamiyan, whose powerful silence was destroyed by explosives. We are standing up for the manuscripts and mausoleums of Timbuktu, the colossal stone statues and the human-headed winged bulls of Mesopotamia.

The deliberate fury directed against the heritage of humanity reflects a determination to destroy collective memory, deny the past, and plunder history. It is the same destructive desire that aims to inflict violence on women, men, and children and destroy stone, clay, the treasures of cultural heritage and museums.

It is the same evil intent, the same desire, to destroy what may have existed before in order to stifle any hope for the future.

We owe these people, these women and these men, a sense of respect for their past: we must pass on their history to our children and to the children of our children because it is part of the common heritage of mankind. We must ensure the safety of all those who are trying to safeguard these treasures of humanity, sometimes at the cost of their own lives.

The international community is taking action through what Léon Blum rightly called the “UN’s conscience,” i.e. UNESCO.

I want to pay tribute to UNESCO’s key role in protecting heritage and promoting the diversity of cultures as an instrument of peace, as the moral conscience of humanity, reaffirming that culture connects people to their history, their country. Thanks to UNESCO, states have made a commitment by adopting texts that will help safeguard our common heritage. The overall mandate of this institution is more relevant than ever in a world where the values that it has embodied since it was established are being called into question.

I also want to pay tribute to the work of the UNODC and Interpol which play a key role in preventing the trafficking of cultural goods, through judicial cooperation as well as by raising states’ awareness of these problems that are often still overlooked.

I also want to pay tribute to the commitment, reflected by their presence this morning at the Security Council, of the under-secretary-general and the director-general of UNESCO, and to thank the UNODC executive director for his speech.

I would of course like to thank the British presidency, without whom France and Italy would not have been able to issue this invitation. And I would of course like to express France’s wholehearted solidarity with the United Kingdom following the attack against its Parliament, the very cradle of democracy.

The protection of heritage is a challenge for civilization, an ethical challenge that binds us together in all of our diversity. But it also poses a security challenge, because during conflicts, the illicit trafficking in looted cultural property finances terrorist networks and contributes to the development of armed conflict. The armed groups and in particular the terrorist organizations are bolstered by revenue earned from the trafficking of cultural heritage. Cultural property stolen in countries at war is in turn used to perpetuate and intensify conflicts.

Even after the conflict, when peace has been restored, heritage continues to play a key role in peacebuilding since it helps promote resilience and unity among the affected populations.

For all these reasons, the international community must mobilize its efforts; it’s a human requirement, a just cause and a key instrument in promoting lasting peace.


At this morning’s founding meeting, the international community is acting via the Security Council. For the first time it adopted a general resolution exclusively devoted to protecting endangered cultural property in the event of armed conflict.

This body, whose responsibility is to monitor and preserve peace, is fully prepared to tackle this issue through the text proposed jointly by France and Italy.

Of course, previous texts adopted by the Council touched on the subject, but they did so in a limited manner and in particular areas, and notably through the prism of counterterrorism.

Resolution 1267, for instance, calls for respecting Afghanistan’s cultural and historical heritage, and resolution 2199, adopted in 2015, condemns the destruction of the cultural heritage of Iraq and Syria, particularly by Daesh and the al-Nusra Front, and urges member states to take the appropriate measures to prevent the trafficking of cultural property from those two countries.

But now, we are in an emergency situation that has led the Council to move beyond these resolutions, and to deal with the subject in its entirety.

In so doing, it can rely on the commitment of the 43 states that in December 2016 attended the international conference in Abu Dhabi on safeguarding endangered cultural heritage, hosted by France and the United Arab Emirates, whose resolute commitment I applaud. In its final declaration, these countries called on the Security Council to support two major objectives identified during the conference:
- establishing an international fund to protect endangered cultural property
- creating a network of safe havens.

Adopted unanimously, the resolution is both comprehensive and balanced. It attests to the international community’s total and absolute commitment at the highest level. I want to tell you how proud I am to present it with my Italian colleague.

Resolution 2347 raises the issue of endangered cultural property in situations of armed conflict by dealing for the first time with the full array of threats – destruction, thefts, trafficking – with no geographic limitations and regardless of whether the perpetrators are listed terrorist organizations or other armed groups.

The resolution explicitly links the financing of terrorist groups to trafficking in cultural property and strengthens the operational mechanisms established in this regard by previous Security Council resolutions.

It also better takes into account the connections between terrorist groups and organized crime.

It mentions the main operational achievements of the Abu Dhabi conference with regard to the respect of international law.

It steps up cooperation between the agencies and bodies that deal with this issue without taking their place, and encourages states to better cooperate and take effective operational measures.

And finally, it invites member states to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its protocols, as France has just done. Indeed, we have just ratified the second 1999 protocol, thus becoming – with the United Kingdom – the first permanent Security Council member to do so.


France will play a central role in this commitment and especially in this cooperative effort, particularly by contributing $30 million to the fund announced at the Abu Dhabi conference, which has already raised more than $75 million.

Dear friends, it is dangerously wrong to believe that modernity can be based on forgetting. It can only arrive perched on the shoulders of the giants who have come before us.

We must preserve the entirety of the “great book of humanity” evoked by Victor Hugo in his Notre-Dame de Paris. Indeed, for him, architecture was a “great book of humanity, the principle expression of man.”

Naturally, cultural heritage is a living thing that changes through the centuries. But time – and not the destructive passions of man – must tell what remains of history.

This resolution invites us collectively to demonstrate wisdom and show respect for time. Preventing cultural heritage from being destroyed in a murderous attempt to rewrite history is a way of standing up for peace. Preventing the heritage of peoples from being hijacked to finance violence and crimes against their own history is a way of standing up for peace. That is the purpose of the historic resolution we adopted this morning.

Thank you.

Dernière modification : 16/03/2018

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