News story

New scheme to protect cultural sites from destruction

A government-backed scheme to protect cultural sites from the destructive forces of war and ISIL terrorists will be announced by Culture Secretary John Whittingdale today.

The £3m Iraqi Emergency Heritage Management Project – run by the British Museum over five years – will be launched at a seminal cultural summit in central London, co-hosted by DCMS and the FCO.

It will create a team of local experts to assess, document and stabilise afflicted sites in Iraq, and help begin the process of reconstruction and preservation of some of the world’s most precious cultural artefacts.

Leading archaeological and political figures including Neil MacGregor from the British Museum and Mechtild Rössler from UNESCO will attend the event and debate the shape of a dedicated Cultural Protection Fund, announced by the Chancellor earlier this year.

At the event, Mr Whittingdale will also reaffirm the government’s commitment to ratifying the Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict – with a plan to get it onto the statute books at the first opportunity.

Today’s announcements form part of a comprehensive Government plan to rescue ancient sites and objects from destruction by terrorists, wars or natural disasters across the world.

Culture Secretary John Whittingdale said:

Civilisations tell their stories through their art, which is why people who are hell-bent on destruction, target it. Removing places and things that have helped to give people a shared sense of history and identity helps to undermine social cohesion and makes reconciliation less likely.

Many heritage sites are used for military purposes to shield and conceal soldiers and weapons, and valuable objects are trafficked to finance warmongering. It must be tackled head on.

Minister for the Middle East and North Africa Tobias Ellwood said:

The humanitarian crisis in the Middle East takes priority and the UK is at the forefront of the international effort to support those affected by the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. But we cannot stand by and ignore this appalling, deliberate attempt to erase the rich cultural heritage and sense of belonging for all communities in Iraq and Syria.

The new funding for the British Museum to train Iraqi experts in rescue archaeology will build on the progress we are already making to preserve art and archaeological sites for future generations and promote a sense of Iraqi national identity.

Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum said:

We are grateful to DCMS for their invaluable support on this important programme. This training builds on our collaborations with colleagues in the region and will make a real difference in recording and preserving the cultural heritage currently under threat in Iraq.

Sir Ciarán Devane, Chief Executive of the British Council said:

We welcome the Government’s decision to develop a Cultural Protection Fund. It will enable us and partner organisations to increase the work we do to protect cultural sites around the world. In particular we will be able to offer training in affected countries so that local experts can protect their own cultural assets for future generations.

Robert Jenrick MP said:

I am delighted the Government is backing the brave men and women on the ground who are protecting our collective heritage and ensuring these special sites can play their part in rebuilding shattered economies and societies when the present conflict eventually ends.

With world class museums and institutions like the British Museum and with deep links throughout the Middle East, the UK should lead the world in protecting culture from danger.