G7 highlights the power of heritage for peace in first-ever meeting on culture

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UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, participated in the first ever G7 Culture Ministers’ meeting held on 30 and 31 of March in Florence, Italy. G7 Members adopted a common “Florence Declaration” recognizing the distinctive role of culture as an instrument for dialogue, reconciliation and response to emergency situations. Members of the G7 underlined here the importance of a common and coordinated action to strengthen the safeguarding of cultural heritage.

The G7 Meeting comes less than a week after the historic adoption of the UN Security Council 2347/2017 on the Protection of Cultural Heritage in the event of Armed Conflict. An initiative by France and Italy that marks a major new step, reflecting a new bold vision of the links between peace and heritage.

“In the times we live in, we need to drastically strengthen international coordination in the field of culture,” said Mr Dario Franceschini, Italian Minister of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism at the opening of the ministerial session, highlighting the role of creative industries to foster economic growth and the importance of intercultural understanding to combat mistrust, hatred and prevent conflicts.

Referring to the writings of the late Italian intellectual Umberto Éco, he said, “we are all bearers of knowledge and if we disseminate this knowledge, helping people to read, to go to the cinema, to theatre, to learn about different cultures, we can enhance mutual understanding.”

“I would like to thank Italy for its tireless efforts to raise awareness on the destruction of cultural heritage among the international community,” said the Director-General of UNESCO.

“The deliberate destruction of heritage is a war crime — it has become a tactic of war, to undermine societies, to paralyze communities, to spread hatred, to fuel revenge, in a global strategy of cultural cleansing,” she declared. “This is inacceptable and it calls for stronger and appropriate responses. Defending cultural heritage is more than a cultural issue — it is a security imperative, inseparable from that of defending human lives.”

The Florence Declaration, adopted by the G7 Culture Ministers, expresses strong support for UNESCO’s role in promoting the protection and preservation of cultural heritage and welcomed measures already taken to counter violent extremism and raise awareness, such as the #Unite4Heritage campaign. It also affirmed the leadership role of UNESCO in coordination of international efforts within its mandate to protect cultural heritage, working closely with Member States and relevant international organizations.

UNESCO experts also joined the G7 technical sessions, focused on international regulations, procedures, and education models aimed at the protection of cultural heritage. Francesco Bandarin, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture, stressed the legal and practical framework of UNESCO’s Culture Conventions in the context of public and private law, as well as the role of national and international courts, underscoring the 2016 ruling by the International Criminal Court against Al-Mahdi for the destruction of mausoleums in Timbuktu. He said it was imperative to unify the international legal framework and increase the ratifications of the international treaties.

Legal, security and museum experts reviewed preventive measures including databases and information sharing, as well as the effectiveness of specialized police forces in the context of organized crime.

Maria Kouroupas, Director of the Cultural Heritage Center, Department of State (USA), encouraged “greater due diligence on the part of everyone involved in the trade of cultural property, and greater emphasis on provenance of cultural objects which move across borders.”

Michel Magnier, Director for Culture and Creativity, European Commission, emphasized education and training models available for teachers to specifically integrate culture in building inclusive, dynamic societies and in promoting dialogue and understanding.

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