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Safe-guarding Those Who Protect and Preserve National Heritage


virunga guardsThe recent sad news that Mr. Emmanuel de Merode, Chief Warden for Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was ambushed and shot is only the latest in a series of attacks and assaults around the world against those who protect and preserve national heritage sites. While all of us are grateful for the fact that Mr. de Morde’s condition is stable and he is recovering in Kenya, we are also hoping that more international guidelines and laws could create more support and security for these individuals.

According to Katy Scholfield, Synchronicity Earth website, in August last year, Ranger Kasereka Kipako was killed in an ambush of his patrol post. This had come just a month after two rangers were killed and seven others wounded while travelling from Goma to Rumungabo. More than 140 park rangers have been killed in Virunga in the last decade as reported by BBC. 

Rangers and park workers are targeted directly for a number of reasons. To many they present a threat to the income of militia groups, who are responsible for much of the illegal charcoal production inside the park. Rangers have also been targeted by the state – the organizations who are supposed to protect and ensure their safeguard. Ms. Scholfield also reported last year that Ranger Rodrigue Katembo Mugaruka was arrested and imprisoned in Kinshasa for trying to protect the park from British company, Soco International, carrying out oil exploration.

Earlier this month, Global Witness released a report titled: “Deadly Environment: The Dramatic Rise in Killings of Environmental Land Defenders.”

The report actually revealed some very shocking statistics as outlined in the Scholfield’s blog:

At least 908 people were killed in 35 countries protecting rights to land and the environment between 2002 and 2013, with the death rate rising in the last four years to an average of two activists a week.

The year 2012 was the worst year so far to be an environmental defender, with 147 killings – nearly three times more than in 2002.

Impunity for these crimes is rife: only 10 perpetrators are known to have been convicted between 2002 and 2013 – just over one per cent of the overall incidence of killings.

The problem is particularly acute in Latin America and Southeast Asia. Brazil is the most dangerous place to defend rights to land and the environment, with 448 killings, followed by 109 people Honduras (109) and 67 in the Philippines.

It is very obvious to all of us that more international laws with harsher penalties have to be mandated in order to safeguard those who make sure that the national heritage sites including Virunga National Park is protected and preserved for the future generations.

To read Katy Schonfield’s original blog go to :


Director of National Park in the DRC, Ambushed and Shot


220px-Lava_Lake_Nyiragongo_2The Belgian director, Emmanuel de Merode of the famed national park, Virunga in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was shot and wounded in an ambush about two weeks ago. Mr. de Merode was taken to a hospital immediately and was operated on. A few days later, he was in stable but critical condition and was transferred to a hospital in Nairobi, Kenya.

It has been reported that Emmanuel de Merode’s vehicle came under fire by unidentified armed men as he was travelling from the eastern city of Goma to the town of Rumangabo. Mr. De Merode was shot in the stomach and legs four times as reported by BBC. Goma is about 50km (30 miles) from Rumangabo, the headquarters of Virunga National Park.

Some of eastern DRC’s numerous armed groups are based in the park and since 1996 more than 130 park rangers have been killed in Virunga. Virunga National Park is home to the mountain gorillas and has been listed a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It is believed that Mr. De Merode’s work attracted him a lot of enemies. BBC also reported that Mr. De Merode had attended a meeting with a state prosecutor in Goma discussuing proposed oil explorations in Virunga before he was shot. It has been reported that he handed the prosecutor sensitive information about oil exploration at Virunga.

UK-based oil firm Soco International is exploring for oil at Virunga, despite strong criticism from environmental organizations. The firm however, has condemned the attack on Mr. De Merode and has also denied any involvement.

The Virunga Park is home to about 200 of the world’s 790 remaining mountain gorillagorillas and it is one of the most ecologically diverse places on Earth

Five Books Submitted by Iran for the UNESCO List


UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register is a list of library collections and archive holdings of world significance. This is an international initiative launched in 1992 to safeguard the documentary heritage of humanity against neglect, damage, the ravages of time and climatic conditions, and willful and deliberate destruction.

The five books were proposed recently by the Iranian National Commission for UNESCO, the National Library and Archives of Iran (NLAI).

The five books include The Bustan (The Orchard) and the Gulistan (The Rose Garden) of Persian poet Sadi (c. 1213-1291), inscribed by the 14th century calligrapher Ahmad Shirazi and preserved in the National Library and Archives of Iran.

MasvzniA copy of Masnavi-ye Manavi, the magnum opus of the Persian mystic and poet Molana Jalal ad-Din Rumi (1207-1273) is the second document/book.

The third document is Abu Is’haq Ibrahim ibn Muhammad al-Farisi al-Istakhri’s “Kitab al-masalik wa-al-mamalik” (Book of Roads and Kingdoms) dating back to the 10th century. The Persian translation of the book is being preserved in the National Museum of Iran. However, the original text is being kept in a library in Germany and the book has been jointly proposed by Iran and Germany to UNESCO.

A rare copy of “Al-abnia ‘an haqaeq al-adwia” written by the 12th century writer Abu Mansur Mowaffaq Heravi is the fourth book.

The fifth document is Safarnama (travelogue) by the 11th century Persian poet Nasir Khusraw, he concluded.

When creating the Memory of the World Register, UNESCO realized the need to protect such fragile yet important component of cultural heritage of the world. This list was established with the aim of preserving and digitizing humanity’s documentary heritage.

Voice of Latin America, Gabriel Garcia Marquez passed away


Gabriel_Garcia_MarquezLatin American author Gabriel Garcia Marquez passed away on Thursday April 17. Garcia Marquez was born in 1927 on the Colombian coast and was the master of a style known as magic realism, and his novels were filled with miraculous and enchanting events and characters; love and madness; wars, politics, dreams and death.

Marquez won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1982. In his acceptance speech he spoke about Latin America’s wars, military coups, dictatorships and ethnocide: “We, the inventors of tales, who will believe anything, feel entitled to believe that it is not yet too late to engage in the creation of … a new and sweeping utopia of life, where no one will be able to decide for others how they die, where love will prove true and happiness be possible, and where the races condemned to one hundred years of solitude will have, at last and forever, a second opportunity on earth.”

Chilean novelist Ariel Dorfman says the speech was one of the author’s most important messages to the world.”(in his speech) Garcia Marquez is speaking about all the people who are marginal to history, who have not had a voice.” Dorfman said.

Marquez was 87. He had learned that he had lymphatic cancer in 1999, and it is believed that he had been suffering from senile dementia since 2012.

Endangered and Nearly Extinct


gorillaIt is hard to believe that as we go on with our daily tasks, our planet Earth gets closer everyday to losing another animal species.  In fact, it would be hard to believe, unless you take a closer look. 

The list is long and includes animals like mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) living in the Virunga Mountains, bordering Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda to the giant ibis (Thaumatibis gigantea)  which has been declared the most endangered and evolutionarily distinctive bird in the world. 

So why are these beautiful animals disappearing?  There are many reasons including changes in climate, local and regional unrest, ecological changes, deforestation, and increasing poverty that affect humans and therefore, affect many animals living in different habitats. 

In addition, there are many animals that are reported to be now extinct.  The list includes many animals that most of us have actually never seen and perhaps will never have the opportunity to see. 

One of these animals is Baiji dolphin or “the goddess of the river” and for a long time, the dolphin’s skin was highly valuable and used to make accessories like gloves and handbags.  According to Mother Nature Network, the last documented sighting of China’s baiji dolphin, or Yantze River dolphin, was in 2002. Even though, the species is listed as critically endangered, many scientists believe that it may already be extinct. In 2006, the Baiji Foundation sent a team of scientist on a Yangtze River research expedition. The team traveled for more than 2,000 miles while using optical instruments and underwater microphones, to search for the rare dolphins, but could not detect any sign of it. The foundation published a report on the expedition and declared the animal formally extinct. The decline in the baiji dolphin population has been attributed to many factors including overfishing, boat traffic, habitat loss, pollution and poaching.

It is clear to environmentalists and conservation activists that we should do a better job of making sure that fewer and fewer animals are vulnerable and therefore become endangered and unfortunately extinct. 

Hardliners Oppose Frye’s burial in Iran


fryeOn the eleventh of April, some supporters of the Islamic government in a hostile demonstration objected to the request by Richard Frye to be buried in the historic city of Isfahan, Iran. These demonstrators claimed that Frye was a US spy and should not be allowed to buried in Iran.

As the demonstrations were happening in Isfahan, the government’s publications actually reflected on the protests and expressed support for them. These demonstrators who also have a publication named the “revolutionary youth” stated that they will attempt to demolish Pope’s tomb. In fact, it looks like that at the same time, his tomb was vandalized and paint was used to write all over his beautiful tomb.

Arthur Upham Pope(1881–1969) was best known as a pioneering American expert on Persian/Iranian art and the editor of the authoritative Survey of Persian Art. He was also a university professor of philosophy and aesthetics, archaeologist, photographer, political activist, museum director and planner, pianist, interior designer, and founder of an international scholarly organization. Both Pope and his wife Phyllis Ackerman are buried in Isfahan, Iran.

Many reports from Iran show the outrage by other Iranian youth groups who love Persian culture and history and in their own way have been protesting the action of these government supported protestors in Iran in weblogs, and Heritage Sites. They strictly and adamantly express their outrage in these actions and state that these protests in Isfahan do not represent the opinions and thoughts of millions of Iranians who have supported and preserved professor Pope’s tomb in Iran and also support eventual burial of professor Frye in Iran.

Here is a video of Dr. Frye discussing his wishes.

Reconstruction of World Heritage Mausoleums in Timbuktu


TimbuktuIn 2012, Mali experienced occupation by armed extremists in the north and centre of the country and during that period a number of World Heritage sites were either badly damaged or destroyed as we have reported here on WCHV website.

These historical sites and edifices were examples of history and the golden age of Timbuktu as an economic, intellectual and spiritual center in the 15th and 16th centuries. These buildings are also exceptional examples of unique architecture of that period which had been preserved by the citizens of Mali for centuries.

The reconstruction project which will focus on the sixteen of them are part of the World Heritage site has been financed by Mali and UNESCO with contributions from Andorra, the Kingdom of Bahrain, Croatia and Mauritius as well as logistical support from the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) as reported by UNESCO.

Earlier this month (April 2014), Mali’s Minister of Culture, Bruno Maiga, laid the first earthen brick on the mausoleums of Sheik Baber Baba Idjè and Sheik Mahamane Al Fullani, in the presence of UN and UNESCO officials. Diplomats from France, South Africa and Switzerland were also present at the ceremony.

Damavand: Not Yet World Heritage but in Danger


DamavandDamavand or Mount Damavand which is the highest peak in Iran, and has had long history and roots in Iranian mythology and a symbol of the nation’s history and identity, is in danger. According to Fararud News Agency, over a long period of time, private companies permitted by the government, have been active in daily transfer of 300 loaded trucks of mineral ore to different destinations. Major organizations and activists working in the field of preservation of cultural and natural heritage have objected but have received no response from the private companies while they have continued their activities. This has been happening in spite of the fact that there have been ongoing work on preparation of the application to  UNESCO for listing of the Damavand on the World Heritage.

takhrib-damavand-2 takhrib-damavand-1



Japan Cancels Whale Hunt


whaleYesterday, Japan officially canceled all plans to hunt whales in the Southern Ocean in 2014 just days after an international court ruled against the killings. This Japanese annual ritual which has drawn criticism from all over the world is now cancelled for the first time in over 25 years.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his government would comply with the court order for this year, but he expressed his disappointment in the ruling during a meeting with members of the Japanese government’s legal delegation. As a result, it is very possible that that Japan will try to revive the program under different legal reasoning next year.

It is important to note that the hunt had taken advantage of a loophole in a 1986 international moratorium on commercial whaling that allowed killings for research purposes as reported by the New York Times. The ruling by the International Court of Justice in The Hague on Monday said the scientific output from Japan’s whaling program in Antarctica “appears limited” and suggested that the hunt was continued because of politics, rather than science.

Japanese government has confirmed that Japan would abide by international legal rulings as Japan may not have any other choices but to obey the court as reported by several news outlets. This is a critical time for Japan as the country is calling on China to adhere to international legal laws in the territorial dispute over East China Sea islands claimed by both countries.