UNESCO's alert to protect Libyan monuments

Nevine El-Aref , Saturday 27 Aug 2011

UNESCO urges the world’s nations to protect Libya’s cultural heritage through the country’s transitional period

Leptis Magna

Following Libya's uprising, the UNESCO’s Director General Irina Bokova called on the world’s nations, Libyans and international art and antiquities traders to protect Libya’s cultural heritage.

In a release sent by UNESCO Media Service, Bokova stated that looting, theft and the illicit trafficking of cultural property are manifestly in contravention of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, the only international instrument that focuses exclusively on the fight against the illicit trafficking in cultural property.

“The heritage of a nation is essential to the ability of its citizens to preserve their identity and self-esteem, to profit from their diversity and their history and build themselves a better future,” Bokova said. With this timeless truth in mind, she called on the people of Libya, on neighbouring countries and all those involved in the international art and antiquities trade to do all they can to protect Libya’s invaluable cultural heritage.

“I immediately contacted those countries and underscored the importance of the fight against the illicit trafficking and illegal export of cultural property,” Bokova asserted.

Experience, she continued, shows that there is a serious danger of destruction of invaluable treassures during times of social upheaval. It has taught us to look out for looting by unscrupulous individuals that often damages the integrity of artifacts and of archaeological sites. “Careless dealers who buy these objects and fragments are in fact inciting more looting. It is therefore crucial that the international antiquities market be particularly wary of objects from Libya in the present circumstances,” Bokova cautioned.

Bokova further offered UNESCO’s assistance in assessing reports of damage sustained by some of Libya’s five World Heritage sites, including the Hellenistic city of Cyrene and the Roman city of Leptis Magna, and preparation of plans for their safeguarding, as soon as this becomes possible.

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