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Koh Ker highlighted as a model of cultural heritage management for peacebuilding at the Naples Conference on Cultural Heritage in the 21st Century

7 December 2023


To ensure comprehensive and inclusive exchanges, the conference gathered a diverse array of global cultural stakeholders, renowned thinkers, and community leaders.


The Naples Conference on Cultural Heritage in the 21st Century took place from 27-29 November 2023 in Naples, Italy, with the objective of exploring the synergies between the 1972 World Heritage Convention, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, and the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, marking its 20th anniversary this year. The Conference was hosted by Italy and organized by UNESCO in cooperation with the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and the Italian Ministry of Culture and received support from the City of Naples.

As the first major event bringing together the World Heritage and Living Heritage Conventions following MONDIACULT in 2022, the Naples Conference celebrated heritage in its diverse forms, fostering enhanced and new forms of safeguarding through active participations of communities. Reflecting on the achievements of the two Conventions, discussions centered around the potential of heritage as a driver of sustainable development, peace, and stability.

To ensure comprehensive and inclusive exchanges, the conference gathered a diverse array of global cultural stakeholders, renowned thinkers, and community leaders. Their perspectives inspired an innovative approach to heritage that considered the close relationships between nature and culture, tangible and intangible heritage, as well as heritage and creativity.

During Session 5 on "Cultural Heritage in Times of Conflict: Fostering Prevention & Peacebuilding", His Excellency Mr. Kong Puthikar, Director-General of the National Authority for Preah Vihear in Cambodia, joined other panelists, including Mr. Omar Mohammed (Iraq), Historian and founder of the "Mosul Eye" Initiative, Ms. Annie Tohme-Tabet (Lebanon) Anthropologist, Professor at Saint Joseph University in Beirut, and Ms. Oluwatoyin Sogbesan (Nigeria), Director of the Àsà Heritage Africa Foundation, to discuss the impact of conflicts on cultural heritage. The session, moderated by Ms. Krista Pikkat, Director of the UNESCO Culture and Emergencies Entity, aimed to shed light on the role of culture and heritage in conflict prevention, peacebuilding, and community resilience.

In his presentation, Mr. Puthikar emphasized the long-term effects of the civil war on the Koh Ker cultural heritage site and the challenges faced in combatting looting and illicit trafficking of cultural heritage. He highlighted Koh Ker as an exemplary case of resilience and "building back better" from the impact of conflict. Mr. Puthikar stated, "Culture is a powerful tool that not only brings people together but also bridges the gap of misunderstanding and contributes to mitigating conflict and war, bringing out the idea of peace."

The presentation showcased the journey of Koh Ker, from the years of conflict to achieving UNESCO World Heritage status in September 2023, including with the support of the Heritage Emergency Fund. The HEF-funded project implemented at Koh Ker included demining operations, community-based workshops for the prevention of cultural property theft, and activities to strengthen disaster risk resilience at the site, addressing risks posed by both human activities and natural hazards.

On December 29, 2023, the conference proceedings concluded with the adoption of the Call for Action, known as the "Spirit of Naples". This Call for Action encompassed guiding principles and recommendations addressed to all UNESCO Member States and stakeholders, for the protection of cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible, and natural heritage of communities worldwide. 


For more information about the conference and the Call for Action, please visit the following links: