Discorso pronunciato dal Ministro degli Affari Esteri e della Cooperazione Internazionale, On. Angelino Alfano, all’Evento a margine della 72ma UNGA organizzato dall’Italia su “Protecting cultural heritage from terrorism and mass atrocities: links and common responsibilities” —
Ladies and gentlemen,
In this interconnected world, we can download almost anything from the internet. But we cannot download values. They must be our “moral browser”, because without them we are disconnected.
Therefore, when mass atrocities are perpetrated we all carry the responsibility to protect the people affected. Rwanda and Bosnia are tragic examples of the world’s inability to act in the face of horrific crimes against humanity.
When the response of the international community is irresolute or weak, there is a concrete danger of a new genocide, a new ethnic cleansing and a new gross violation of human rights.
Today, in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Mali: on top of the brutality of terrorism, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, we have also seen a dramatic surge of “cultural cleansing”. A terrible destruction of culture.
Acts of intentional destruction of cultural heritage can be war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Acts of intentional destruction of cultural heritage are a huge obstacle to peace! They hinder dialogue and reconciliation, by fomenting hatred among communities and between generations.
Therefore, Italy has placed culture at the center of the agenda for peace and security, by promoting – with France – Security Council Resolution 2347: it’s the first of its kind adopted by the Security Council on the destruction of cultural heritage in armed conflicts. Because we believe the Council should pay much more attention to threats to cultural heritage and their impact on global security.
As the biggest contributor of Blue Helmets among Western countries, we support the mandates of peacekeeping operations to include provisions on the protection of cultural heritage. We consider the peacekeeping mission in Mali as an example and as a model to be followed.
We also welcome the actions taken by the International Criminal Court: like the sentencing of Al Mahdi for the destruction of religious and historic sites in Mali.
Italy has also been at the forefront of important initiatives such as UNESCO’s campaign “Unite4Heritage”. We established a National Task Force of Italian Carabinieri. In addition, Carabinieri provide training to international and regional forces.
“Unite4Heritage” is founded on the notion that culture must unite and not divide. And so we must do our utmost to avoid that important fora, like UNESCO, turn into political and ideological battlefields.
On another critical front: within the Global Coalition against Daesh, Italy has promoted actions to counter the illicit trafficking of cultural artifacts. This illegal smuggling funds organized crime and terrorism. Resolution 2347 aims at countering this phenomenon.
When I think of Daesh’s attempt, in Syria and in Iraq, to put young people out of school. And to destroy some of the most amazing works of humanity that are part of their cultural identity. When I think of these horrible acts undermining national unity, I’m also reminded that culture is much more powerful than any terrorist plot. That culture is more powerful than bombs.
For this reason, this year we organized the first G7 on culture in Florence. The G7’s final declaration reaffirms our great determination: for the protection of cultural heritage at risk in conflict zones; for the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural goods; and the fundamental contribution of culture to dialogue, cooperation, and sustainability.
On that occasion, we installed in the main square of Florence a replica of the Arch of Palmyra. Today, I would like to recall the sacrifice of Khaled al-Asaad, the great archaeologist and custodian of Palmyra, murdered by Daesh.
Often archaeologists are our best “diplomats”: in Iraq, Italian archaeologists have built the greatest “Arches of friendship” with local communities. Communities that have guarded important sites like Ur and Uruk from the barbaric iconoclastic violence of terror. Italian archaeologists are helping them protect their cultural heritage.
Thousands of years of history teach us that culture is a means of peace: thanks to culture, we open ourselves to others with mutual respect and learn to listen more actively to what others say.
So let’s work together to strengthen the link between culture, peace and security! Integrating the cultural dimension in conflict prevention and conflict resolution is not just a moral obligation: it is above all a political and security imperative.