Statement by Ambassador David Killion on the Destruction of Syrian Cultural Heritage

The United States fully supports the statement made by the Ambassador from Turkey and categorically rejects the claims made by the delegate from Syria.

The United States strongly condemns the destruction of Syria’s cultural heritage, most recently, the reports of the destruction of the minaret of the iconic Umayyad mosque in the ancient city of Aleppo.

The United States is gravely concerned about the escalating violence and rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in Syria, which increasingly degrades regional stability and security.  At the same time, Assad’s brutal war against his people is also destroying Syria’s rich cultural heritage, and we have called on all sides to respect and protect Syria’s historical treasures.  The looting and destruction of sites and monuments that have been preserved for millennia places Syria at risk of losing a cultural legacy of universal importance that can unify, rather than divide, the Syrians.

Cultural heritage is an invaluable resource, and its loss results in damage to national identity, illicit trafficking of cultural goods, and destruction of sites that would support future economic development through sustainable cultural tourism.

As a party to UNESCO’s treaties to protect cultural heritage, including the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict; the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property; and the World Heritage Convention, the government of Syria has a responsibility to protect these invaluable sites.  All parties in this conflict who are concerned about Syria’s past and future share this responsibility.

It is past time for Syria to live up to its obligations to its people and protect their irreplacable cultural heritage. We echo the Director General’s grave concern about the ongoing destruction and call on the international community to join us in continuing to raise the profile of these important issues.

The United States welcomes the Director-General’s statements as well as UNESCO’s recent efforts in Amman, and we encourage her to do more.

And further, Madame Chair, claims have been made against Turkey by the Syrian delegation, and I would ask that the Turkish representative be given a chance to respond.