The monumental arch at Palmyra (photo by Bernard Gagnon/Wikimedia Commons)

The monumental arch at Palmyra (photo by Bernard Gagnon/Wikimedia Commons)

Last Thursday, the United Nations General Assembly passed a non-binding resolution on ISIS’s destruction of cultural heritage in Iraq, saying the group’s actions “may amount to war crimes” and reiterating a similar statement by UNESCO Director-General Irina Bukova on May 13. The meeting was held just a day after the militants released a video from the ancient Roman city of Palmyra, in Syria, announcing they would only destroy ancient ruins they deemed idolatrous.

The resolution, titled “Saving the cultural heritage of Iraq,” details ISIS’s attacks on cultural heritage sites and demands its members be stopped and held accountable. Though the resolution seems to reiterate what everyone already knows, the UN calls it an essential and important step forward in “saving the world’s shared histories.”

The text was introduced to the assembly by Germany and Iraq and cosponsored by 91 member states that include — incredibly — Syria, whose own president, Bashar al-Assad, has been accused of destroying his country’s heritage.

A press release explains:

The representative of Syria said his country had co-sponsored the text and reiterated its support for the efforts of the Iraqi Government and people to safeguard cultural heritage and civilization from barbaric terrorist acts … [they] would have preferred joint cooperation in protecting the heritage of both countries, he said, stressing that a unified appeal to Governments not to support terrorism and discourse that incited violence and hatred would have been more effective to preventing the despoliation of cultural sites.

The UN Security Council failed to adopt the resolution anyway, which means it can’t be legally enforced — and which will make some wonder just how much weight it really has.

Still, Bukova said it represents a “turning point in mobilization of the international community against the destruction of cultural heritage, looting of antiquity and ‘cultural cleansing’ in Iraq,” according to the release.

Laura C. Mallonee

Laura C. Mallonee is a Brooklyn-based writer. She holds an M.A. in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU and a B.F.A. in painting from Missouri State University. She enjoys exploring new cities and...