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Friday, 2 March, 2001, 00:33 GMT
Battle to save world treasures
The Croatian city of Dubrovnik
The Croatian city of Dubrovnik was a world heritage site
By Elizabeth Blunt

The UN War Crimes Tribunal has issued indictments against the Serb and Montenegrin soldiers allegedly responsible for the destruction of Dubrovnik.

This beautiful Croatian city is designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, Unesco, as a World Heritage Site.

Buddhist statue
The destruction of Buddha images has offended religious sensibilities
At the same time, the head of Unesco is attempting to intervene and stop the destruction of ancient Buddhist statues in Afghanistan by the Taleban authorities.

Behind Unesco's activities lies a fundamental idea that some things in this world are so beautiful, so significant, that they form part of the heritage of all mankind.

Heritage sites

The old port city of Dubrovnik and the ancient stone figures of the Buddha in Bamiyan do not just belong to the people who created them, or to the people who now live in the country where they are situated.

The notion of a world heritage is totally opposed to the idea that a Yugoslav or Afghan government - the people who are in power in those countries at any particular moment in history - can say: "These things are in our country, so they are ours, and we can do what we like with them, even destroy them."

Unesco has currently designated nearly 700 places around the world - churches and mosques, palaces and tombs, cities and national parks - as world heritage sites.

Benefits of listing

The Afghan Buddhas are not listed, perhaps because the request for a listing has to come from the authorities in the country concerned, but Unesco clearly believes the Bamiyan statues are important.

Normally, governments are proud of their countries' heritage, and attempt to get their sites listed. Listing brings practical benefits, since if the world has an interest in preserving these things, it also has a duty to contribute to their preservation.

It has been suggested that the whole concept of protecting cultural sites, in a world where people are suffering, means the UN cares more about objects than people, but the people concerned seldom agree.

The citizens of Dubrovnik, while in very real danger themselves, cared passionately about the destruction of their city, and have made enormous efforts to restore it to its former glory.

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See also:

01 Mar 01 | Europe
Charges over Dubrovnik bombing
01 Mar 01 | South Asia
Taleban begin statue purge
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