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Iraq heritage can boost human rights, report says – University of Reading

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Iraq heritage can boost human rights, report says

Release Date 17 May 2019

Destroyed Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul, Iraq

Enabling access for all Iraqis to the country’s heritage can play a key role in sustaining peace there, says a new report by archaeologists at the University of Reading submitted to the UN.

RASHID International, whose president is Reading professor of archaeology Roger Matthews, has submitted a report to the UN Human Rights Council Third Cycle of the Universal Periodic Review, Concerning the Republic of Iraq. It calls for action to counter the damage done to the human rights of women and the destruction of monuments by so-called Islamic State (Daesh) and for inclusion of the wider Iraqi population in the rebuilding process.

The report follows research by RASHID being cited six times by the UNHRC Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, in a report on the 10th anniversary of her role being created by the UN.

Professor Matthews said: “We are informing the UN that accessing and participating in the cultural heritage of any country, in this case Iraq, is fundamental to human rights – an aspect that has been only partially addressed in its previous reports.

“A huge rebuilding process is needed in Iraq to undo the damage Daesh has caused to its historical sites and, much more significantly, to society itself. Women have been disproportionally affected by recent conflict, so giving them, as well as the wider population, a bigger say in restoring Iraq’s cultural heritage will reinforce the fact that this heritage belongs to all Iraqis, not just to the elite.”

'Death penalty too extreme'

A crucial part of the new RASHID report is its call for everyone to be allowed to take part in cultural life, including the ability to access and enjoy cultural heritage. Destruction of monuments by Daesh, particularly in Mosul, means a lot of work is needed in reconstruction, and the report argues that this is something all Iraqis can and should have input into.

The rights of women have been hugely impacted by conflict in Iraq, with Daesh criminals capturing, enslaving and abusing women. The report outlines how issues preventing women from enjoying equal human rights can be overcome, including with greater representation of women in governance and employment on cultural heritage projects.

RASHID argues that the death penalties and life sentences under Iraq’s heritage laws for crimes concerning antiquities can be too extreme. It also calls for policies to protect heritage sites during armed conflict, stronger action against uncontrolled development, and to bolster work to prevent antiquities from being traded illegally – something that has become a larger problem due to pillaging of historic sites.

The UN’s Universal Periodic Review reviews the human rights record of all UN states in the world every four and a half years on the basis of information submitted by NGOs, the United Nations and the state concerned.

RASHID stands for Research Assessment & Safeguarding of the Heritage of Iraq in Danger. It is a non-profit worldwide network of archaeologists, cultural heritage experts and like-minded professionals seeking to help Iraq enrich itself using its history, archaeology and heritage.

The report submitted to the UN Special Rapporteur for cultural rights, Professor Karima Bennoune, called for her to visit Iraq to increase awareness of the importance of cultural rights in the country, and offering logistical assistance. It also outlined work being undertaken by RASHID to protect and promote Iraq’s heritage, including enhancing museums and history education.

The Reading archaeology team also recently published an article on the current state of Iraqi heritage with colleagues from RASHID as well as the Deputy Minister of Culture for Tourism and Antiquities Affairs in Iraq and Director General of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage in Baghdad. Published in the International Journal of Heritage Studies, it reviews damage to buildings in Mosul and emphasises the need to enhance protection of Iraq’s heritage.

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