UN resolution on protecting Iraqi antiquities excludes Syria

Despite its artifacts facing similar threat from Islamic State, diplomats wary of rushing to defense of Assad regime

The Islamic State flag raised on top of Palmyra castle, May 22, 2015. (The website of Islamic State fighters via AP)
The Islamic State flag raised on top of Palmyra castle, May 22, 2015. (The website of Islamic State fighters via AP)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Syria’s UN ambassador said Thursday that a newly adopted General Assembly resolution on the Islamic State group’s threat to Iraqi cultural heritage doesn’t address the same threat to his country because member states threatened to reject the measure.

Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari told The Associated Press that “the Europeans” made the threat.

The resolution comes just days after the Islamic State group captured the ancient Syrian town of Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Iraqi Ambassador Mohamed Alhakim told the AP that “it would have been a bit more complicated politically, let’s put it that way” to make the resolution about Syria as well. He said the resolution is “fantastic material” for other countries such as Syria to pursue their own efforts.

Famed cultural sites in both Syria and Iraq have been destroyed or threatened by the Islamic State, raising international alarm. But many UN member states are upset over the Syrian government’s role in its four-year conflict.

Germany and Iraq sponsored the resolution, which urges UN member states to take action against the trafficking of looted cultural objects and reminds them that their sale could end up financing the Islamic State or other extremist groups.

While it is non-binding, the resolution adopted by consensus is a strong expression of international opinion.

A European diplomat who followed the three rounds of consultations with member states around the resolution disputed the Syrian ambassador’s comments, saying he never even spoke during the consultations.

The diplomat said the resolution focuses on Iraq because the Islamic State group has already destroyed cultural heritage sites to such a large extent in that country. The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about private consultations.

The Iraqi ambassador also expressed frustration that the more powerful Security Council only put out a “very watered-down statement” about the recent destruction of Iraq’s cultural heritage.

“This is really not about Iraq,” Alhakim said. “It’s about humanity.”

The head of the UN cultural agency UNESCO, Irina Bokova, said that in early June her agency and the International Council of Museums will launch in Paris an updated list of cultural objects that should not be exported from Iraq.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press.

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