UNESCO highlights ‘brutal and deliberate destruction’ of World Heritage sites

One of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan, destroyed by the Taliban in 2011.
One of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan, destroyed by the Taliban in 2011. Photo via Wikipedia. Click here to see full photo credits.

‘World Heritage is under attack today …’

Staff Report

FRISCO — Most years, the annual meeting of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee is a time to celebrate the best of humanity and nature, as world leaders gather to designate new sites based on outstanding cultural and natural attributes that are of value to the whole world.

But this week in Bonn, the meeting started on a somber note, as speakers warned of the unprecedented threat  of violent extremism and cultural cleansing that has specifically targeted world heritage sites in the Middle East.

“Heritage is under attack today. In Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen, we see the brutal and deliberate destruction of heritage on an unprecedented scale. This is a call for action,” declared the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova.

Several months ago, UNESCO launched a #Unite4Heritage campaign to try and counter the growing number of destructive attacks. Speaking on that occasion, Bokova said, “Our response to ignorance and criminal stupidity, must also have a cultural dimension … knowledge, the sharing of Islam’s millennial learning and wisdom, sharing the message of Palmyra, the Venice of the Sands, that is like a bridge between the legacies of ancient Greece and Rome, the Persian Empire and the Arab culture from ancient times to the present.”

The Bonn meeting is chaired by German Minister of State Maria Böhmer, who said, “The fury of terrorist organizations like ISIS in Iraq surpasses our imagination. World Heritage is the foundation of people’s existence and cohesion … It is the wellspring of social identity,” she said, invoking the role of culture in peace building.

Top UNESCO officials said member states are ready to do what they can to protect threatened sites.

The latest threats are particularly vicious, but the destruction of World Heritage sites isn’t completely new. In 2001, the Taliban destroyed a pair of 6th century monumental statues known as the Buddhas of Bamiyan after declaring them heretical idols.

This year, 36 sites have been nominated for inscription on UNESCO’s World Heritage List:

Natural sites

  • Cape Floral Region Protected Areas [extension of the property Cape Floral Region Protected Areas] (South Africa)
  • Sanganeb Marine National Park and Dungonab Bay – Mukkawar Island Marine National Park (Sudan)
  • Landscapes of Dauria (Mongolia/Russian Federation)
  • Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex (Thaïland)
  • Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park [extension of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park] (Viet Nam)

Mixed natural and cultural sites:

  • Blue and John Crow Mountains (Jamaica)

Cultural sites:

  • Thimlich Ohinga Cultural Landscape (Kenya)
  • Nyero and other Hunter-Gatherer Geometric Rock-Art Sites in Eastern Uganda (Uganda)
  • Baptism Site “Bethany Beyond the Jordan” (Al-Maghtas) (Jordan)
  • Rock Art in the Hail Region of Saudi Arabia (Saudi Arabia)
  • Tusi sites (China)
  • Susa (Islamic Republic of Iran)
  • Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel, Shipbuilding and Coal Mining (Japan)
  • Great Burkhan Khaldun Mountain and its Surrounding Sacred Landscape  (Mongolia)
  • Baekje Historic Areas  (Republic of Korea)
  • Singapore Botanical Gardens (Singapore)
  • Cultural Landscape of Maymand (Islamic Republic of Iran)
  • Christiansfeld, a Moravian Settlement (Denmark)
  • Par Force Hunting Landscape in North Zealand (Denmark)
  • Viking Age Sites in Northern Europe (Denmark, Germany, Iceland, Latvia, Norway)
  • Climats, Terroirs of Burgundy (France)
  • Champagne Hillsides, Houses and Cellars (France)
  • Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus District with Chilehaus (Germany)
  • Naumburg Cathedral and the Landscape of the Rivers Saale and Unstrut Territories of Power in the High Middle Ages  (Germany)
  • Bet She’arim Necropolis – A Landmark of Jewish Renewal (Israël)
  • Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalú and Monreale (Italy)
  • Rjukan – Notodden Industrial Heritage Site  (Norway)
  • La Rioja and Rioja Alavesa Wine and Vineyard Cultural Landscape (Spain)
  • Diyarbakır Fortress and Hevsel Gardens Cultural Landscape (Turkey)
  • Forth Bridge (United Kingdom)
  • San Antonio Missions (United States)
  • Gelati Monastery [Significant boundary modification of “Bagrati Cathedral and Gelati Monastery”] (Georgia)
  • Routes of Santiago in Northern Spain [Extension of “Routes of Santiago de Compostela”] (Spain)
  • Ephesus (Turkey)
  • Aqueduct of Padre Tembleque, Renaissance Hydraulic Complex in America (Mexico)
  • Fray Bentos Cultural-Industrial Landscape (Uruguay)

During its session, the Committee will also examine the state of conservation of 94 sites already on the World Heritage List, and of the 46 sites inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

All working documents are available online


Watch the Committee debates live:



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