(As prepared for delivery)
President Weiss, President Aksoy, Ambassador Alyemany, distinguished delegates to the United Nations, and other honored guests: thank you for your presence here this evening.
We are here to reflect upon the rich history of Yemen, its unique heritage and cultural treasures, as well as our shared hope for peace, stable governance, and security in Yemen. As I speak tonight, the country’s protracted conflict and the escalation in violence and bloodshed in recent days -- especially the deadly clashes in Aden -- is much on our minds. The United States is calling on all parties to prevent further loss of life, to engage in dialogue and to reach a political solution. The Yemeni people are already facing a dire humanitarian crisis. Additional divisions and violence within Yemen will only increase their suffering.
The United States and the entire international community have been gravely concerned about the food security emergency and cholera outbreak in Yemen, the worst the world has seen in many years. One can only imagine the long nightmare that Yemeni families have faced as food, medicine, and security have disappeared.
Our concerns for the people of Yemen extend to their traditional homes in urban areas, the places where ordinary Yemenis live, eat, sleep, and gather with their families and neighbors – the places that are at the same time accorded World Heritage status for their impressive and ancient cityscapes. For years, in the vacuum of governance, Yemen’s unique tower houses, mosques, and military architecture made of sun-dried bricks have been subjected to widespread unregulated development, vandalism, and direct damage from armed conflict.
This damage will worsen and irreplaceable heritage will be lost if we do not take action – even as solutions to the conflict are urgently pursued. While a political solution remains the only way to advance long-term stability and relieve the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen, we are taking important steps now to prevent the further degradation of invaluable cultural property and heritage sites.
The U.S. State Department is proud to partner with ICOM in the publication of Emergency Red Lists – including the Emergency Red List for Yemen which is being released today. Protecting the cultural patrimony of countries in crisis like Yemen requires a global response. ICOM’s dedication and coordinated initiatives such as the Red Lists have been vital in fighting antiquities trafficking.
With scientific contributions from international experts and from museum institutions in Yemen, the United States, and Europe, the Red List identifies categories of Yemeni objects which are most at risk of being illicitly trafficked. This is the 16th Red List on which the State Department and ICOM have partnered. Red Lists are an important tool in orienting law enforcement officials to the types of artifacts that have been looted from archaeological sites, stolen from museums and mosques, and illicitly trafficked.
The State Department also greatly values our partnership with the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the series of public events such as this one tonight that have sounded the alarm on “heritage in peril” in Syria, Iraq, and now Yemen. Museums allow us to contemplate the role of history and culture in the development of modern society. Here in this magnificent space, we are inspired to consider our shared future and the heights of artistic and cultural endeavor that mankind can achieve.
We appreciate the leadership role that the Met has adopted in the fight to preserve and protect humanity’s heritage. Together, we are exposing the mechanisms by which terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS profit from the looting, theft, and sale of “conflict antiquities;” and, we are increasing awareness of efforts to protect and preserve the cultural heritage of ethnic minorities in the Middle East.
The Yemen that many here tonight no doubt remember is a place of vibrant neighborhoods, markets rich with incense, coffee and spices, and active ports and fisherman. I hope that one day, in a Yemen that has regained its footing, I will be able to visit its cities, mountaintop villages, and archaeological sites and see them intact and tranquil.
Yemen is an important partner to the United States and key to stability in the wider region. A stable, unified Yemen will not only improve the humanitarian situation for millions of Yemenis, but will also help preserve Yemen’s amazing cultural history for generations to come – a history of which all Yemenis can be proud. Today’s Red List release is a significant step to protect Yemen’s heritage. We look forward to continuing this critical work together.
Thank you very much.