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DIRECTRICE GENERALE DE L'UNESCO

The Director-General opens the intergovernmental meeting on the preparation of a Declaration of Principles relating to cultural objects displaced in connection with the Second World War

Yesterday, the Director-General of UNESCO, Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, opened the intergovernmental meeting on the preparation of a Declaration of Principles relating to cultural objects displaced in connection with the Second World War.

The meeting was organized in follow-up to the Resolution of the 33rd session of UNESCO’s General Conference (33 C/Resolution 45), which decided that the subject of cultural objects displaced in connection with the Second World War should be subject to a non-binding Declaration of Principles. The Director-General is invited to submit a draft of this Declaration to the 34th session of UNESCO’s General Conference in 2007.

Mr Matsuura began by underlining the highly complex nature of the subject. “It raises a number of concerns – legal, political, administrative and financial, as well as emotional – that require careful consideration. The Second World War not only led to an unprecedented loss of human life, but also to the large scale destruction, looting and pillage of cultural objects. Such destruction and plundering was sometimes incidental. However, in many cases, such acts were part of a deliberate campaign to annihilate the culture of entire peoples.” The Director-General continued, “cultural objects are powerful symbols of identity. They not only represent the past, but also provide important sources of inspiration for the future”.

Mr Matsuura highlighted UNESCO’s commitment to the preservation of cultural heritage, referring to the Organization’s role both in developing normative standards and guidelines, and creating platforms for dialogue and mediation, where different partners can work together to preserve the common heritage of humanity. It was in both these capacities that UNESCO had been asked to develop a Declaration of Principles relating to cultural objects displaced in connection with the Second World War.

The Director-General drew attention to the considerable efforts made by the international community since the end of the Second World War to facilitate the restitution of illicitly displaced cultural objects. Such efforts have resulted in the adoption of a number of normative instruments, as well as in the creation of a negotiating forum for cases of illicit appropriation. UNESCO has also recently elaborated a set of thirteen draft principles intended to serve as alternative dispute resolution tools for the numerous unsettled cases of cultural objects displaced in relation to the Second World War.

Mr Matsuura noted that the decision of UNESCO’s Member States to ask for further action in this domain “bears testimony to the international community’s desire to raise public awareness of this dark chapter in human history. It also points to the need for governments to engage in initiatives of remembrance, and to build platforms for dialogue and reconciliation”.

“The plundering of cultural heritage represents a negation of human rights, and needs to be brought before the conscience of humanity”, the Director-General underlined. “It is only through a true historical understanding of such events that we can hope to overcome ignorance and prejudice, and learn to understand different cultures and peoples. Such historical restitution can also help to advance the principles of respect and tolerance, and build appreciation of the importance of cultural objects both to the identity of peoples and to the world’s cultural diversity. The development of a Declaration of Principles will thus reinforce UNESCO’s work in support of intercultural dialogue and understanding, questions of burning importance in today’s globalizing world.”

  • Auteur(s):Office of the Spokeswoman
  • Source:Flash info n°120-2006
  • 21-07-2006
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