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UAE, France to initiate fund for heritage site protection

Global meet in Abu Dhabi will discuss initiating UN resolution to protect heritage sites in conflict areas

Gulf News

Paris: A global conference to be jointly hosted by the UAE and France next week will take major initiatives of setting up an international fund and demanding the UN Security Council intervention to protect cultural heritage during armed conflicts, a senior French official said.

This initiative will be launched by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, and François Hollande, President of France, Jack Lang, Hollande’s representative to Abu Dhabi Conference, said in Paris.

The Safeguarding Endangered Cultural Heritage conference, under the patronage of Unesco, will be held in Abu Dhabi on December 2 and 3 in the presence of heads of states, prime ministers, and other top officials including senior ministers from 40 nations across the globe, he told a group of senior journalists from 12 countries. The journalists were invited by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a press tour to Paris for a detailed briefing on the conference.

The initiative gains relevance in the wake of widespread destruction of thousands of years’ old priceless cultural monuments and artefacts caused by Daesh militants in Iraq and Syria recently.

The conference will establish the international fund to be based in Geneva in Switzerland, Lang said.

“France will contribute $30 million (Dh110.19 million) for the conservation of heritage sites in conflict areas in the next two years — $15 million (Dh55.09 million) in the first year and the remaining $15 million in the second year,” he said.

Commenting about the conference, a senior Abu Dhabi Government official said: “We believe that the true legacy of any nation is manifested in its art, architecture and culture. The continuing devastation of these treasures in combat zones deprives us, and future generations, of a resource that is of enormous historical value.”

The deliberate destruction of cultural artefacts as an act of war reflects not only their symbolic importance to a nation’s collective consciousness but also underscores the urgent need to protect them, said Mohammad Khalifa Al Mubarak, chairman of Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority.

“This is the reason that we are gathering influential figures in the industry in Abu Dhabi to determine a clear plan of action that can work towards safeguarding these invaluable resources for the next generation,” he said by email from Abu Dhabi.

France and the UAE are discussing the possibility of introducing a resolution at the UN Security Council (UNSC) for the protection of heritage sites in conflict zones, based on the proposals and recommendations to be made by the conference, Lang said. France is one of the five permanent members of the UNSC.

Speaking to Gulf News, Lang said: “We are preparing the resolution, which will discuss with our Emirati friends [before presenting for the conference’s approval]. If they agree with it, we will go ahead [with further action].”

The UAE official commented: “We are committed to delivering the proposals that come out of the conference in cooperation with France and the international community. Following the conference and the establishment of the Abu Dhabi Declaration, the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs will work with its French partners to determine the next steps,” Al Mubarak said.

The conference will also take initiatives for mapping various cultural heritage sites to protect the endangered ones in conflict zones.