Prime Minister Hailemariam at the Conference on Safeguarding Cultural Heritage in UAE…

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), supported by
the governments of France and the United Arab Emirates organized the two-day conference on
Safeguarding Endangered Cultural Heritage in Abu Dhabi at the end of last week (December 2-
3). The conference brought together representatives from over 40 countries in the international
community that have been seriously affected by heritage loss due to conflict, as well as key
players in world heritage preservation. The conference aimed to support UNESCO’s global
mandate to protect cultural heritage during armed conflict as well as safeguard historic sites and
monuments that represent civilizations dating back millennia from systematic destruction or
looting. The conference was also a response to the growing threat to some of the world‟s most
important cultural resources arising from sustained periods of armed conflict, acts of terrorism
and illicit looting and trafficking of cultural property. The importance of this has been underlined
by the destruction and thefts that have occurred in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Mali, and elsewhere
in recent years.
In his introductory remarks, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and
Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, said the destruction of cultural heritage
was an attempt to obliterate humanity. He said the perpetrators of this evil were using the name
of religion. He underscored the urgent need to stop their malevolent and wicked actions.
President Francois Hollande of France said his country was championing this cause because of
the increasing trend of extremists to launch deliberate and calculated violent attacks on the
people and their cultural symbols and heritage in conflict areas. Irini Bokova, Director-General
of UNESCO said: “Unfortunately, we see the illicit trafficking of items even without conflict,
but in times of conflict we see, I would say, disastrous proportions of looting and trafficking;”
adding, “I would argue that it is recognized that the illicit trafficking of objects abroad from
Syria is one of the ways of financing extremism”. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of Greece also
underscored the need to set up and strengthen international networks for saving and protecting
cultural heritage and property. He said the world was witnessing escalation of efforts at
deliberate cultural cleansing. This was having devastating effects.
Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn stressed the deliberate destruction of heritage, now a part
of the de-culturization process used by terrorist groups, was more serious than the looting and
trafficking of heritages. He said that Ethiopia, home to a wide spread of diverse cultural heritage,
was deeply concerned with this deliberate destruction of heritage, intended to de-culturalize the
world. He stressed the need for strong cooperation to effectively safeguard cultural heritage from
armed conflicts, terrorism, and illicit trafficking. He pointed out that Ethiopia had been subject to
heritage plundering and looting from foreign invasions as well as from criminal trafficking. As a
victim of cultural heritage plundering and looting it had lost many ancient and valuable
manuscripts, religious objects and archaeological remains. Manuscripts illegally taken out of the
country included books on religion, medicine, astronomy, the Ethiopian calendar, philosophy,
law and administration. The 1868 British expedition and the 1935 Italian invasion were the most
extensive examples of the looting of Ethiopia‟s heritage. The Prime Minister said over 3,500
Ethiopian manuscripts were now believed to be in European countries and the U.S. He urged the
international community to help in the restitution of the heritage of Ethiopia, looted during
foreign invasions, emphasizing that any processes designed to restore stolen treasures had proved
quite extraordinarily slow and cumbersome.
Mohammed Al Mubarak, the Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Tourist Cultural Authority, said it was
never too late to act. He pointed out that acts of cultural destruction and looting were continuing.
The Middle East and South Asia region, he said, had been suffering destruction for a
considerable time: “from the looting of the Egyptian museum at the start of the Arab Spring to
the dynamiting of the Buddhas of Bamiyan, cultural genocide has been rampant in the region,”
he added.
The two-day conference focused on improving legal and funding mechanisms to facilitate
emergency protection of heritage sites as well as post-conflict cultural rehabilitation. It
considered the development of concrete and innovative solutions, as well as the creation of a
global framework for immediate and long-term goals. It also launched the creation of a global
network of safe havens as refuges for endangered works and an international financial fund to
sustain long-term programs to preserve cultural heritage, as well as build on the capacity of
conservation professionals in conflict areas.
The conference concluded with the ratification and adoption of the Abu Dhabi Declaration. This
underlined that the world‟s cultural heritage is a mirror of mankind, a guardian of collective
memory and a witness to the extraordinary creative spirit of humanity, and it represents the
foundation of our common future. The Declaration reiterated that the world needed to ensure
respect for universal values, in line with the international conventions of The Hague of 1899,
1907, 1954, and the 1954 and 1999 Protocols, which require people of the world to protect
cultural property as well as human life in times of armed conflict. The declaration said: “We are
committed to pursuing two ambitious, long term, goals to guarantee the further mobilization of
the international community for the safeguarding of heritage: The creation of an international
fund for the protection of endangered cultural heritage in armed conflict, which would help
finance preventive and emergency operations, fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural
artifacts, as well as contribute to the restoration of damaged cultural property; the creation of an
international network of safe havens to temporarily safeguard cultural property endangered by
armed conflicts or terrorism on their own territory, or if they cannot be secured at a national
level, in a neighboring country, or as a last resort, in another country, in accordance with
international law at the request of the governments concerned, and taking into account the
national and regional characteristics and contexts of cultural property to be protected.
Following the Declaration, the Conference announced the creation of an international fund for
the protection of endangered cultural heritage in armed conflicts. The fund, which aims to raise
$100 million when established, will help finance preventive and emergency operations, fight
against the illicit trafficking of cultural artifacts, and contribute to the restoration of damaged
cultural property. The Conference agreed that the headquarters of the Fund would be located in
Switzerland with 10 million dollars as preliminary funding.
….and holds talks with UAE’s Crown Prince
Prime Minister Hailemariam and his delegation held a series of meetings with UAE leaders
during the visit to Abu Dhabi. On arrival on Friday (December 2), the Prime Minister was
received at the Presidential Airport by Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, Member of the
Executive Council, and other officials. Later, he met Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan,
Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and held discussions on expanding the horizons of cooperation
between the two countries. The Prime Minister‟s Special Envoy, Ewnetu Bilata said later that the
discussions focused on boosting cooperation in investment, trade and tourism so as to build
relations based on mutual benefit. In addition to boosting bilateral ties, the two sides also
discussed issues related to peace and stability in East Africa. They stressed the need for
enhancing their respective role in ensuring lasting peace in the region.
Ethiopia‟s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Workneh Gebeyehu, met with Sheik Abdullah Bin
Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International cooperation of UAE, during
which the two sides discussed bilateral ties and explored ways of enhancing cooperation between
the two countries as well as exchanged views on current regional and international developments
of mutual concern.
Ethiopia and UAE concluded discussions and signed an agreement on reciprocal promotion and
investment protection. This is expected to significantly boost bilateral trade volume and
investment flows. Investment officials from both countries signed the agreement on Saturday
(December 3). The Director General of the Ethiopian Investment Commission, Fitsum Arega,
said that although guarantees for protection of investments were already established in Ethiopia’s
investment law, bilateral agreements of this kind further encouraged companies to invest in the
country. The Commissioner said UAE investors were already interested in investing in the
hospitality industry, in agriculture and agri-industrial food areas. He said the conclusion of the
agreement will bolster their engagement in these areas.