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The United Nations should be empowered to protect culturally valuable sites in war-torn, politically unstable and poverty-stricken areas by registering them as World Heritage sites at its own initiative, UNESCO goodwill envoy Ikuo Hirayama says.

The 70-year-old renowned painter said in a recent interview with Kyodo News that he will propose the measure at a meeting of the Japanese National Commission for UNESCO on Wednesday in the wake of destruction of two giant Buddha statues in Afghanistan by the Taliban authorities.

The two towering, cliff-hewn Buddha statues in Bamyan, northwest of Kabul, were demolished last month following an edict by Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar that labeled them offensive to Islam.

“We can still expect another case like the Bamyan Buddha to happen in the future,” Hirayama said. “It is equally essential for Japan both to help refugees in any country experiencing conflict and to present specific measures to save antiquities with the spirit of a ‘cultural property red cross.’ “

Hirayama expressed his hope that the U.N. agency’s general assembly will swiftly adopt such measures.

Hirayama said that under his proposal, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization should register cultural heritage sites in areas ravaged by conflict as World Heritage sites with the endorsement of experts, and it should demilitarize the zones around the monuments so that the common property of mankind can be protected.

Currently, parties to the 1972 World Heritage convention choose candidate sites in their own countries and apply for registration with measures to preserve them through their own efforts.

The convention adopted by UNESCO to protect cultural and natural sites worldwide has been ratified by more than 160 countries. Japan ratified the convention in 1992. Hirayama said Afghanistan is the first country since 1972 whose leadership has destroyed its own national cultural heritage on purpose.

The painter also suggested establishing a foundation to prevent the destruction of cultural property that has been illegally taken out of its country of origin. Several international conventions ban purchase of such items, raising the likelihood that they might be destroyed.

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