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I wish to thank warmly the Asia Society, the Antiquities Coalition, the Middle East Institute and, of course, UNESCO, for inviting us to participate in this event.

As we all know, lately there has been a spike in the barbaric destruction of and terrorist attacks on the cultural heritage of countries affected by armed conflict. Not to mention the unprecedented scale of organized looting and illicit trafficking in cultural objects. Such crimes erode our collective cultural and historical heritage and are being used to intimidate populations. They also generate income for terrorist groups that supports their recruitment efforts and strengthens their ability to organize and carry out terrorist attacks.

This risk is particularly high in the Middle East and in the Mediterranean – although not limited to these regions – where the multiethnic and multi-religious character of the societies is under severe threat. As a close friend and member of the region, Italy is a staunch believer in preserving inclusiveness and diversity and is ready to deploy the necessary political and practical tools to address this challenge through international cooperation.

Today’s debate is aimed at discussing innovative and practical ways to protect and preserve cultural heritage.

In 1969, Italy became the first Country in the world to create a police division specialized in the protection of cultural heritage and the fight against illegal trafficking in cultural property. The Italian Carabinieri Division has stepped up the fight against organized trafficking at the national and international levels, also by providing expertise and training to their foreign colleagues.

Building from this foundation, we are very active in this field at both the political and the technical levels, and we are sharing our experience with all the partners moving toward common goals.

Italy co-chairs the sub-group on illegal trafficking in cultural property established within the frame of the Anti-Isil coalition and supporting the initiatives of Interpol and other international bodies.

Allow me to underline few points.

First, our national action is expressed most prominently at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, and we appreciate DG Bokova’s participation in the New York event for the opening of the 70th General Assembly.

At the initiative of Italy and Spain, in April the UNESCO Executive Board adopted resolution 196 on culture in areas of conflict. The resolution underlines the major damage to the cultural heritage of humanity as a whole, and that, in accordance with international law, intentional attacks on buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science or charitable purposes and historic monuments – provided they are not military objectives – can be considered a war crime.

Second, it is time to translate into practice the April 28 resolution on the protection of cultural items in Iraq as well as other relevant resolutions, including SC Res. 2199 (2015).

Third, the Vice Presidency of the Assembly of State parties of the International Criminal Court allows me to recall the importance of prevention through justice.

On Sunday, September 27, at 11:30 am, at UN Headquarters, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Jordan and Italy and the directors of UNESCO, INTERPOL and UNODC will launch a project dedicated to the implementation of the international legal framework on the protection of cultural heritage. Named “Protecting Cultural Heritage – an Imperative for Humanity: Acting together against the destruction and trafficking of cultural  property by terrorist and organized crime groups,” the project is open to wider participation and your attendance and support would be highly welcome.

In conclusion, protecting cultural heritage and integrating the cultural dimension into the prevention and settlement of conflicts is not only an emergency measure: it is also a political and security imperative. I am confident that today’s event will contribute to our common cause.

Thank you.