US-Iran issue: Global heritage bodies call upon all par

Tehran's foreign minister drew parallels with the Islamic State group's destruction of the Middle East's cultural heritage. (AFP photo)

Two global heritage bodies have voiced concern over the US threat to target Iranian cultural sites and called upon all parties to respect international agreements, and protect the world's cultural legacy, "regardless of religious beliefs or political intentions".

The International Council of Museums (ICOM) and the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) in a joint statement also reminded that Iran is home to 24 UNESCO World Heritage Sites of "great cultural and natural importance – not only to Iranians but to humanity and its collective memory".

"In armed conflicts and political upheavals since the turn of the millennium, cultural heritage has been increasingly targeted. It has been looted or deliberately destroyed, in order to finance warfare or to affect the identity and the confidence of adversaries," the statement said.

Museums, as well as cultural sites, are affected in many countries around the world, it said.

"ICOM and ICOMOS as representatives of the heritage community in the world, are very much concerned about this evolution and in particular recent developments," the two heritage bodies said in the joint statement issued on Monday.

The tension between the US and Iran has seen a dramatic escalation in the last few days in the wake of the killing of Maj Gen Qaseem Soleimani in a strike by America.

Maj Gen Soleimani, 62, the head of Iran's elite al-Quds force and architect of its regional security apparatus, was killed when a US drone fired missiles into a convoy that was leaving the Baghdad International Airport early on Friday. The strike also killed the deputy chief of Iraq's powerful Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force.

US President Donald Trump had also tweeted recently to warn Iran that it may target its cultural sites.

"Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans or American assets, we have targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!" Trump had said.

ICOM and ICOMOS, both France-based, in the statement, said, they remind all parties of armed conflicts of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. 

"There, States Parties agree that 'damage to cultural property belonging to any people whatsoever means damage to the cultural heritage of all mankind since each people makes its contribution to the culture of the world'. The United States of America ratified the Hague Convention in 2009, Iran in 1959," it said.

Both countries are also States Parties to the 1972 World Heritage Convention, which the United States of America was the first country to ratify in 1973 and played a key role in promoting, the heritage bodies reminded.

Moreover, in 2017, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2347 that states: “directing unlawful attacks against sites and buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science or charitable purposes, or historic monuments may constitute, under certain circumstances and pursuant to international law a war crime and that perpetrators of such attacks must be brought to justice”, the statement said.

"ICOM and ICOMOS jointly and strongly condemn any deliberate destruction of cultural heritage. We call upon all parties to respect the international agreements that rule armed conflicts, and to protect the world's cultural heritage wherever it is, regardless of religious beliefs or political intentions," it said.

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