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Updated on 1 March 2015


Section 5:   United Nations agencies, funds, and programmes


UNESCO and resolution condemning destruction of cultural heritage in Iraq and Syria

In resolution 2199 (2015), adopted on 12 February 2015, the Security Council for the first time included a provision condemning the destruction of cultural heritage.  The resolution was directed against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or Daesh), the Al-Nusrah Front (ANF) and all other individuals, groups, undertakings and entities associated with Al-Qaida.  Paragraph 15 of the resolution condemned the destruction of cultural heritage in Iraq and Syria, “particularly by ISIL and ANF, whether such destruction is incidental or deliberate, including targeted destruction of religious sites and objects”.  Paragraph 17 reaffirmed the Council’s decision in resolution 1483 (2003) that all Member States should take appropriate steps to facilitate the safe return to Iraqi institutions of Iraqi cultural property and other items of archaeological, historical, cultural, rare scientific and religious importance, including through establishing a prohibition on the trade or transfer of such items.  In this connection, the Council called upon the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), INTERPOL, and other international organizations to assist in implementing this provision.


After the adoption of resolution 1483 (2003), occasions arose when reportedly UNESCO requested that the Security Council include provisions on the preservation of cultural heritage in resolutions related to other situations.  One such occasion is thought to have been the 12 January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, which devastated historic buildings and put cultural artifacts at risk of looting.  However, reportedly Council members hesitated to address the protection of cultural heritage in resolutions except in very rare cases.  Although Council members have expressed concern over the gravity of traffic in, or the destruction of, cultural heritage, generally they have not wished to raise such instances to the level of constituting an element of a threat to international peace and security. 


This wariness has extended particularly to including provisions on the protection of cultural heritage in resolutions adopted under Chapter VII of the Charter, lest the violation of such provisions thereafter be interpreted by some as obligating the Council to act to ensure their enforcement.  Thus, for example, when in March 2001 the Taliban destroyed the towering 6th century Bamyian Buddhas in Afghanistan, the Council members issued their condemnation in the format of a press statement.  This caution on the part of Council members appeared to have some basis when, on 26 February 2015, the Director-General of UNESCO stated that she considered ISIL’s destruction of statues and other artifacts of the Mosul Museum in Iraq to be “a security issue as it fuels sectarianism, violent extremism and conflict in Iraq.”  On grounds that the acts of destruction constituted “a direct violation” of resolution 2199 (2015), the Director-General indicated that she had “immediately seized” the Council President “to ask him to convene an emergency meeting of the Security Council on the protection of Iraq’s cultural heritage as an integral element for the country’s security” ( 


It should be noted that the UNESCO Director-General’s request that the Council convene a meeting was merely advisory.  Under the Council’s Provisional Rules of Procedure, it is provided only that the Council President shall convene a meeting of the Council upon the request of Security Council members (rule 2) or of non-Council UN Member States, the General Assembly or the Secretary-General (rule 3).  (This update supplements page 607 of the book.)



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