Statement by Ambassador Vassily A. Nebenzia, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, at the Security Council briefing on destruction and trafficking of cultural heritage by terrorist groups and in situations of armed conflict
The tasks outlined in resolution 2347 (2017) regarding the protection of cultural heritage during conflicts, and in particular from terrorists, have not lost their relevance.
I would like to thank the briefers for their detailed information on the work of the bodies they head and their thorough analysis of the challenges currently facing the international community in this area. We join others in congratulating Ms. Azoulay on her appointment as Director-General of UNESCO and wishing her every success.
We support strengthening and actively involving the expert capacity of the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, including in providing States with technical assistance for combating crimes involving cultural property.
We have great hopes for the future work of the Office of Counter-Terrorism, which has been entrusted with the vitally important task of coordinating the anti-terrorist efforts of the United Nations and partner organizations.
My delegation has studied the report of the Secretary-General (S/2017/969) on the implementation of resolution 2347 (2017) with interest. We note its information on my country’s active efforts to combat the destruction and illegal trafficking of cultural treasures.
Our fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the Middle East and North Africa is coming to an end, and a key contribution to that achievement has been the success of the Russian aerospace forces in Syria. Nevertheless, it will take a long time to repair the damage that the terrorists have done to the region’s cultural heritage.
Much has been lost forever. Moreover, the revenue from trading in artefacts continues to be one of the main sources of funding for terrorists, despite the fact that combating this type of illegal activity has been on the Security Council’s agenda for some time now.
With the support of our delegation, the task of combating the financing of terrorism through trafficking in cultural property was set out in resolutions 2199 (2015) and 2253 (2015). However, many unresolved issues remain with regard to their implementation.
Terrorists and the criminal groups affiliated with them exploit every possible loophole to send cultural property abroad. For example, Russia’s border-control authorities were able to confiscate Ottoman-period tiles and other Syrian artefacts that had been stolen from territory under ISIL’s control. If they had not, part of Syria’s cultural property would have wound up illegally in the hands of private collectors. According to our information, this trade in cultural property is carried out mainly by anonymous dealers.
Cases of the illegal acquisition of such items via the Internet have also been documented. Unfortunately, it is difficult to track such transactions owing in large part to the difficulty of identifying the smuggled artefacts. A couple of months ago there was an interesting article in The New York Times on the methods used to smuggle artefacts into Europe and elsewhere.
In the light of that, we once again call on all States to immediately submit to the Committee pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999), 1989 (2011) and 2253 (2015) concerning ISIL (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals, groups, undertakings and entities any information they have on sources of funding for those organizations.
We would like to highlight the importance of including individuals and organizations involved in trading cultural property with terrorists on the sanctions list.
Demining cultural sites and objects, in accordance with resolution 2347 (2017), is a major priority. The resolution calls on Member States, the relevant United Nations entities and other international bodies to provide assistance in that area. My country was one of the first to respond. Nowhere is the humanitarian issue of demining and preserving historic cultural heritage more acute today than in Syria.
The specialists in the Russian armed forces’ international anti-mine centre are contributing to those efforts. In Palmyra alone we have cleared more than 2,000 hectares while also identifying and defusing more than 24,000 explosive devices. However, our efforts to preserve Palmyra’s cultural heritage have not been limited to that. The fourth Saint Petersburg Cultural Forum, in November, for example, mounted a Palmyra photo exhibit that included a three-dimensional model of the ancient city and high-definition relief maps provided by specialists from the Russian Academy of Sciences.
In general, we want to highlight the importance of involving experts in the field of culturalheritage conservation. A good example in that regard was the signing, between UNESCO and the State Hermitage Museum, of a memorandum of understanding on the issue of the safeguarding and restoration of cultural property in conflict areas, primarily in the Middle East.
In conclusion, we reiterate our determination to develop cooperation with all interested parties in the context of implementing resolution 2347 (2017). We stand readily to actively share our experience in protecting cultural property from terrorists.
We are convinced that fighting the barbarous attempts by terrorists to destroy the memory of ancient civilizations is the common and historic task of the global community.