Protecting World Heritage sites is the subject in this edition of Utalk. The question comes from Raja in Brussels: “Who is responsible for protecting World Heritage sites? In cases of conflict what can the international community do?”
The response is from Mechtild Rossler of Unesco’s Heritage Division: “The key responsibility of a site which is listed on the World Heritage list lies with the state that has ratified this convention. The problem comes when you are in a conflict zone where the state party may lose control over the area and the international community has to come in in these circumstances.
“You may remember in the early 1990’s we saw the destruction in Dubrovnik. Unesco immediately intervened. Those architects saved the roofs and Dubrovnik is today again today a jewel in Croatia.
“Now if you come to current conflicts in Iraq and in Syria. As you know, Unesco has no troops, so whenever something happens we cannot go on the ground. The World Heritage Convention says these sites are the responsibility of all humankind so all of humanity has to intervene. We count on local people and in some cases, local people also protect some of the archeological sites. We count on existing authorities. We count on neighbouring countries.
“So we try to protect objects looted from archeological sites or which come from museums and are trafficked outside of the region. And we try to prevent this trafficking through the 1970 Convention and we work together with interpol. So at the moment we work with a system of different international legal instruments, but of course the situation on the ground is dramatic”.
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