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Director-General of UNESCO Worried About Libya: Who’s next?

On Mar. 23, 2011, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the ongoing use of force by the rebels and the Moammar Gadhafi government in Libya.  He called “for an immediate end to violence by all parties, in accordance with Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973, and for the responsibility to protect civilians.” The statement came four days after multinational air campaign began to enforce a no-fly zone. On Mar. 28, 2011, President Obama will address the Nation to explain why there is a NATO intervention in Libya with US forces .

According to the UN News Wire, both Libyan authorities and the international coalition enforcing a no-fly zone over the country have been asked to ensure that no military operations are carried out in areas where historical cultural sites are situated.  Just one week after deploring the threat to Egypt’s cultural heritage, Irina Bokova, the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said Libya and the allies must respect the Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two Protocols. 

In a letter to the Permanent Representatives to UNESCO of each of the involved countries including Libya and the U.S., Bokova wrote “From a cultural heritage point of view, [Libya] is of great importance to humanity as a whole…  Several major sites bear witness to the great technical and artistic achievements of the ancestors of the people [of Libya], and constitute a precious legacy.”

To remind, in part the 1954 Hague Convention provides that “[t]he High Contracting Parties (States) undertake to respect cultural property situated within their own territory as well as within the territory of other High Contracting Parties by refraining from any use of the property and its immediate surroundings or of the appliances in use for its protection for purposes which are likely to expose it to destruction or damage in the event of armed conflict; and by refraining from any act of hostility, directed against such property.”

UNESCO’s World Heritage List includes five sites in Libya: 

  • The Old Town of Ghadamès, which stands in an oasis. It is one of the oldest pre-Saharan cities and an outstanding example of a traditional settlement;
  • The Rock-Art Sites of Tadrart Acacus, cave paintings, dating from 12,000 BC to AD 100, situated on the border with Tassili N’Ajjer in Algeria;
  • The Archaeological Site of Cyrene, established as a Roman province in 74 BC;
  • The Archaeological Site of Leptis Magna, founded in the first millennium BC;
  • The Archaeological Site of Sabratha, a Phoenician trading-post.

With unrest now brewing in Syria, the sites that UNESCO may be wishing to protect next include:

  • Ancient City of Aleppo;
  • Ancient City of Bosra;
  • Ancient City of Damascus;
  • Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din;
  • Site of Palmyra;
  • Noréas de Hama;
  • Ugrarit (Tell Shamra);
  • Ebla (Tell Mardikh);
  • Mari (Tell Hariri);
  • Dura Europos;
  • Apamée (Afamia);
  • Un Château du désert : Qasr al-Hayr ach-Charqi;
  • Maaloula;
  • Tartus : la cité-citadelle des Croisés.
  • Raqqa-Ràfiqa : la cité abbasside;
  • L’île d’Arwad;
  • Simeon Citadel and Dead Cities. 

Yemen has a few cites too.