Media Release - November 22, 2011
by the Association of the National Committees of the Blue Shield (ANCBS)
and the International Military Cultural Resources Working Group (IMCuRWG)

1) The final detailed report is now online:

2) Eight pictures (including the "famous" hole in the bank safe) taken by Karl von Habsburg 
are for free use by journalists reporting on this Libyan mission:

®Karl von Habsburg
Heritage Sites in Eastern Libya(e.g. Benghazi, Cyrene, Ptolemais, Apollonia)

The recent conflict in Libya called for emergency assessment missions to determine the cultural heritage situation. Since independent confirmation about damage and looting had been rarely available thus far, two organizations involved in international protection of cultural heritage, Blue Shield and the International Military Cultural Resources Work Group, organized two missions to meet with Libyan officials and obtain a first hand impression of the situation.

The first mission (September 28 – 30) to Tripoli, Leptis Magna and Sabratha had been very successful and highly welcomed by Libyan heritage professionals; see the detailed report: Therefore the same team decided to travel a second time to Libya, focusing now on Eastern Libya. 

The second mission (November 12 – 16) started in Benghazi and took the eastward road along the Mediterranean coast for about 250 km until Tokra. The team visited sites, monuments, museums, libraries, and archives in 10 towns, among them the famous UNESCO World heritage site in Cyrene

Major cases of damage: 

Benghazi: inspection of the bank vault (see gallery), from which the most valuable coin treasure had been stolen; only 8 coins have been recovered so far.
  • Cyrene (see gallery): Only minor damage to the site; no damage to report on the ethnographic collection, the library and the archives.
  • Darnah: The museum (see gallery) was vandalized, but there were few thefts. The palace of King Idris is suffering from the activity of the squatting.
  • Susa (Apollonia): Break in at the museum and the theft of 4 important vases. The site and the storehouses remain unharmed.
  • Umm al Shuga: Severe damage from illegal digging (see gallery).
Reports from other places in Libya were mainly positive, e.g. the site and the museum of embattledSirte was not harmed.

Overall it has to be stated that in this part of Libya there had been taken good precautionary measuresby local authorities in mid February. The team encountered many good examples of protecting the sites by guards and hiding valuable items by antiquity staff and local civilians.

®Karl von Habsburg
About the mission

Planning this mission began immediately after returning from the first mission. There were a number of obstacles as the logistical problems of travel and the weak communication infrastructure.  The team flew via Istanbul to Benghazi on November 12, and has returned by the same route on November 16.

The team in Libya:
  • Karl von Habsburg, President, Association of National Committees of the Blue Shield (ANCBS)
  • Dr. Joris Kila, Chairman, International Military Cultural Resources Work Group (IMCuRWG); University of Amsterdam
  • Dr. Hafed Walda (Research Fellow at Kings College in London, former director ofexcavation in Leptis Magna)
Home base (background research, coordination, communication):
  • Dr. Thomas Schuler, President, Disaster Relief Task Force (DRTF) of International Council of Museums (ICOM)
This Media Release is authorized by the team members.

Media contact:

Dr. Thomas Schuler
Tel: +49 371 2601007
Fax: +49 371 2600743
Email: th.schuler <at>

Poster announcing the Conference
On the 5th and the 6th of November the American Academy in Rome hosted the conference Saving Cultural Heritage in Crisis Areas. The conference was held at the amazing venue of Villa Aurelia, build by Cardinal Girolamo Farnese atop the Gianiculum in the seventeenth century and now property of the American Academy. This event, organisedby C.Brian Rose, James B. Pritchard, Lucy Shoe Meritt and Laurie Rush with the support of the Getty Foundation and of the Andrew Mellon Foundation brought together a number of experts and leaders in the field of cultural heritage to explore case studies and new actions to prevent damage and protect culture and cultural heritage in times of crisis.

Group photo of all the conference speakers
The welcoming statement of the Ambassador of the United States to the Republics of Italy and San Marino was followed by a first session dedicated to the topic of Disaster response. Aparna Tandon (ICCROM Project Specialist) opened the session with a moving presentation of the activities carried out by ICCROM in Haiti after the earthquake. She vividly described the situation found upon her arrival and illustrated the numerous challenges she had to face to set up an ICCROM training course trying at the same time to take advantage of the opportunity to rescue art and artifacts collections. 

The second speaker, Patrick Daly (Asia Research Institute, Senior Research Fellow) explored the ways in which Cultural Heritage could and should be part of a coherent post disaster action. Bringing as a case study the impact that the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami had on the cultural heritage of indonesian affected areas, he explored examples of  response and recovery that saw the involvement of the community and integrated cultural heritage in response and recovery actions. What I personally found interesting was the comprehensive approach of this paper that looked at the problem from different angles and  took into consideration all cultural aspects of the community life, for instance, including in the picture considerations on intangible heritage, religious and gender issues. Constntly keeping in touch with reality the author also mentioned the ethical challenges that he had to face, in particular in the initial post-disaster phase when the priorities are set and a numeber of forces are working against cultural efforts.

His Excellency Omar S. Sultan
After this session dedicated to disaster response, the conference moved in a different direction and dedicated the following sessions mainly to the presentation and discussion of the Preservation of Cultural Heritage in Conflict Zones. A number of papers looked at this topic from a range of different perspectives, presenting studies from Iraq, Libya and Albania, or looking at Prevention and Protection through Education and Documentation.
It is in this context that His Excellency Omar S. Sultan,  Afghan Deputy Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, spoke about the preservation of cultural heritage in Afghanistan and in particular of the Early Buddhist Site of Mes Aynak. In his talk he introduced a number of issues related with site protection and management to prevent the illicit traffic of antiquities and the widespread looting of archaeological sites. His Excellency proudly spoke about the importance of cultural heritage in the promotion of national integrity and identity. His presentation showed a series of stunning images of the most recent archaeological discoveries in the Logar province and discussed the preservation strategies for the archaeological sites threatened by mining development. This talk gave a lot more than a mere description of the current situation in Afghanistan it also sent a positive message about the efforts made nationally and internationally to help Afghanistan stressing the importance of cultural resources as much as any other resource. As his excellency said  "A well-functioning national management of cultural heritage is a crucial element of rebuilding the Afghan national state".

The first day of the conference was closed by a contribution from the General Pasquale Muggeo (Comandandte, Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale). The General described to the audience the unique experience of the Carabinieri in the protection of Cultural Property and stressed the importance of international agreements and cooperation.

Mounir Bouchenaki, Director General of ICCROM
The second day of the conference featured a number of unique presentations.  Many were related to the different strategies adopted to include Cultural Heritage Protection in military training. Lieutenant Colonel Hodzic, as chief og the Education and Training Development Department, spoke about the programmes of the Peacekeeping Institute of Sarajevo (Bosnia-Hezegovina). While Brian Rose and Laurie Rush illustrated the various training tools adopted to train the US troops about cultural heritage issues both before and during deployment.

More incredible images were shown by Sarah Parcak and Roberto Nardi. Both internationally recognised professionals constantly dealing with archaeological sites in danger. The first one illustrated how the application new technology like remote sensing and satellite imagery can help monitoring archaeological sites affected by heavy looting. The second one described how an amazing archaeological site, like Zeugma in Turkey, can be rescued and preserved by the raising waters of the Euphrate Dam even when working against time and in extremely difficult conditions.

In the afternoon James Lessard and Christina Luke brought again the 'local communities' into de debate, presenting their personal and professional experience in mediating and engaging with local communities to achieve knowledge raise awareness and be able to complete their extremely diverse projects. Each single session was followed by a lively debate and stimulating discussion.

From the left: Christopher Calenza, Brian Rose, Laurie Rush and Mounir Bouchenaki
It is very difficult to summarise in a comprehensive way these two incredibly intense days. Each panelist approached the audience to share and discuss their points of view, and certainly the final round table was the moment in which the audience more actively engaged in the conversation. In fact, the organisers decided to close the conference with a session titled Conversations that Matter.  
Chaired by Christopher S. Calenza, Director of the American Academy in Rome, Brian Rose, Laurie Rush and Mounir Bouchenaki made some conclusive remarks and discussed the observations coming from the audience in light of their great experience in the field. 


For more details:
Conference Programme


The vote on the 31st of October

© Chappatte in "International Herald Tribune"
On the 31st of October, during the 36th session of UNESCO General Conference, the UNESCO Member States voted on whether to grant Palestine full membership to the Organization.  The Palestinian bid received 107 "yes" votes (including France - plus many African, Arab and Latin American counties), with 14 countries voting against (including US, Canada, Germany and Australia) and 52 abstaining (including UK, New Zealand and various Europeans). The 107 votes were sufficient to satisfy a two-thirds majority of countries present and voting and admit Palestine as a member state to UNESCO. During the voting, the atmosphere in the hall was electric. The crowd was told by the Chair to be quiet on a number of occasions, as people cheered and applauded the yes votes. There was a definite feeling throughout the vote that the majority of those present were rooting for Palestine. (CF the video of the vote published below by CultureconflictCooperation). Palestine has been demanding the status of member state since 1989. 

Financial consequences for UNESCO

The consequences for the Organization in admitting Palestine are pretty serious. The US government, in compliance with US law, has now withdrawn all funding from the Organization. As the US is currently the Organization’s largest contributor, this represents a cut of 22% in its regular budget ($80 million from the $653 million annual budget). According to the Palestinian Ambassador to UNESCO, the writer, historian and poet Elias Sambar, it would appear that a number of countries took the US threat to withdraw funding if Palestine was admitted as an insult to their sovereignty and actually pushed the vote in favor of Palestine. To get a complete overview of the legal situation and the firm position of the Congress against the Palestine accession to the position of Member State, you can read the article of Lara Friedman in the Huffington Post

Irina Bokova issued a statement asking the US to reconsider their position as UNESCO will not be able to complete its work in critical areas, such as achieving universal education, supporting new democracies and fighting extremismis (read the statement), without US support. The US will not leave the Organization all together; they are just ceasing funding so they will lose their voting rights after two years. Paradoxically, on November the 2nd (two days after the vote), the US was re-elected to the UNESCO Executive Board to serve another four-year term. David Killion, the US Ambassador to UNESCO emphasized that it was as a strong sign of commitment of the US towards the Organization’s values and actions.
Church of Nativity- Bethlehem
The World Heritage Committee

In February this year, Palestine presented the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem to the World Heritage Committee for World Heritage listing. The site of Bethlehem is the premium Palestine cultural attraction with record numbers of pilgrims and tourist visits. At that time, as Palestine was not a recognized state under UN definition and as a matter of consequence not a signatory member of the World Heritage Convention[i], the proposal was not admissible under the World Heritage Convention of 1972 regulations. 

This vote in UNESCO will now allow Palestine to propose its own sites without the mediation of a third country.  It is worth noting that the Old City of Jerusalem was inscribed in the World Heritage list in 1981 as a submission from Jordan.

Another nomination on the Old Town of Hebron is in preparation. Accordingly, an international symposium will be held in Paris on the 25th and 26th of November in the Institute du Monde Arabe on the historic and architectural heritage of Hebron. The symposium is organized by the International Committee for the preservation and the promotion of the Old City of Hebron ( is led by two French Mayors and the Mayor of Hebron itself. At the heart of the demand is the well-known site of the Cave of the Patriarchs or the Cave of Machpelah, known by Muslims as the Sanctuary of Abraham or Ibrahimi Mosque. A question that will probably be raised in the next few years regards which country, Palestine or Israel, has the right to present this site to the World Heritage Committee for listing, as it has cultural and religious meaning for both communities.

UN Status

It was very unlikely that Palestine would be offered the status of member in the UN on the 11th of November despite the UNESCO precedent, but as Mr Sambar has pointed out it is very common in UN history that there is a period of time between the recognition of a country by UNESCO and by the UN. As a matter of fact, Germany itself was admitted to UNESCO in 1948 and obtained UN membership in 1972.

Laurence Lepetit

[i] Article 13 of the World Heritage Convention of 1972 “Article 13
“The World Heritage Committee shall receive and study requests for international assistance formulated by States Parties to this Convention with respect to property forming part of the cultural or natural heritage, situated in their territories, and included or potentially suitable for inclusion in the lists mentioned referred to in paragraphs 2 and 4 of Article 11. The purpose of such requests may be to secure the protection, conservation, presentation or rehabilitation of such property”

After five intense weeks of work, on Friday 28 October, the second edition of the  International Course on First Aid to Cultural Heritage in Times of Conflict came to a close. Once again, with the support of its partners, ICCROM was able to deliver an innovative and lively training experience to 18 internationally selected cultural heritage professionals.

Each week was dedicated to the exploration of a specific theme, and each day the participants had to face new practical and intellectual challenges. Looking at  the course schedule and at the number of international experts involved in the sessions, it is possible to understand what an amazing opportunity it was for me to be involved in such a project. Every day, for the last few weeks, I was in the class together with the participants and I had the chance to get invloved in all the activities designed  to make sure that each one of them would be able to take back home a 'tool kit' filled with practical skills and intellectual knowledge. However, I  feel that what made this experience unique was the contribution of each single participant. . They came to Italy with their incredible professional and personal back ground and they constantly shared their experiences and reflections  with their colleagues, the ICCROM staff and the teaching team.

It is impossible to summarise in a few lines these five weeks, and as for last year, the end of the course is  only the beginning of a new phase in our professional development. Therefore, I invite all the First Aiders to take advantage of this blog to keep sharing. I really hope that we will be able to create an new network of professionals, something real and active in the field of cultural heritage protection in times of conflict.  I also hope that you will always find this as a welcoming space where you can share your ideas, propose new projects and advertise your professional skills.


First Aiders in Action

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Several articles  echoed the growing concern on Libyan cultural heritage. I will advise  to start with the great article of Dorothy’sKing PHDIVA who gave a great professional insight supported with strong arguments on the composition of the “Libyan treasure”. Once more, the looting raised the importance of having safely stored and up-to-date documentation on collections (as part of risk management plan) to facilitate the work of Interpol to locate looted artifacts in International Antiquities markets. At the end, an article on the recent recovering by Italian Carrabinieri of the head of a statue from the Sabratha Museum, west of Tripoli detached and stolen in 1990 and sold in Christies last April” .Laurence Lepetit

Antiquities missing from Libya (Blog Dorothy’sKing PHDIVA, October 31st, 2011)
“A great deal is being written about the missing "Benghazi Treasure" so I thought it might be worth doing a quick blog post about it. (…)
Firstly, the Benghazi Treasure does not come from Benghazi - it was stored there after the Italians who'd originally excavated it returned it (…)
I'm not trying to downplay the issue of looting, but from a logistical point of view very few of the other items were photographed, and those that were tend to be relatively minor and so will be hard to identify should they appear on the open market.  (…)”
Read More

Priceless gold of Benghazi is stolen (Dan Sales, the Sun, October, 31st 2011)
“A GANG used the battle for Benghazi to steal a priceless haul of ancient gold. The thieves escaped with 7,700 gold, silver and bronze coins — each more than 2,000 years old. A single similar coin sold this month for £268,000.
(…)The disappearance of the hoard — known as the Treasure of Benghazi — was called "one of the greatest thefts in archaeological history".
Read more
Among the missing treasures, clockwise from top: an embossed thin gold plate depicting a battle, golden and wrought silver foils with human heads in profile, and a figure of Nikai. The Arts Newpaper
Thousands of Antiquities looted from Libyan Bank Vault (Blog Illicit Cultural Property, October 31st, 2011)
Thousands of antiquities are reported to have been stolen from a Benghazi bank vault in Libya. The objects are small, portable and very valuable. The collection has not been displayed for many years and has not been sufficiently documented. Chances for recovery would therefore be very remote.
Read More

Looted Libyan treasure “in Egypt”( Alder, Katia, BBC NEWS, October 31st 2011)
Libya's National Transitional Council says it believes several hundred ancient coins stolen from a bank in Benghazi during the Libyan uprising have turned up in Egypt. (…)
Fadel al-Hasi, Libya's acting minister for antiquities, told the BBC there were suspicions the robbery could have been an inside job. (…)
Read More

Interpol confirms Libyan treasure was looted (Bailey, Martin, The Arts Newspaper, October 31st 2011)
(…)“Francesco Bandarin, Unesco’s head of culture, working with Libyan archaeologists, is ­det­ermined to hunt down the treasure; Interpol has alerted 188 national police forces. Inform­ation about the loss is scarce, but there is some new evidence, based on research by Italian archaeologist Serenella Ensoli, the Naples-based director of the Italian Arch­aeological Mission to Cyrene. (…)
The problem with individual coins is that without good photographs it will be difficult to prove their provenance, and to show that they were once part of the Benghazi Treasure. Unesco director-general Irina Bukova told a meeting in Paris that the loss represented “one of the largest thefts of archaeological material in history.” Unesco now hopes to send a mission to Tripoli and Benghazi to pursue inquiries.”
Read More
The Art Newspaper
Head sold at Christie’s stolen from Libya (Bailey, Martin, The Arts Newspaper, October 31st 2011)
“A Roman head of a woman, which was sold at Christie’s in London on 14 April, had been stolen in Libya. It was bought at auction by an Italian for £91,250 and has now been recovered in Italy by the carabinieri. (…)
 The provenance was given as “private collection, Switzerland, circa 1975; acquired by the present owner in Switzerland in 1988”. At the time of the sale, an archaeologist contacted Christie’s to warn that lot 261 was the head of a statue at the Sabratha Museum, west of Tripoli; it had been detached and stolen in 1990.”
Read More

To know more on Libyan cultural heritage fate following the conflict: 

Civil-Military Assessment Mission for Libyan Heritage, By Blue Shield and IMCuRWG, September 28 to 30, 2011
Photo gallery of the report  by Karl von Habsburg and Joris Kila: