Issues Relating to the Taliban's Edict to Destroy Statues

21 March 2001

1. Chronology and Current Situation

(1) Afghanistan is home to numerous invaluable global cultural heritages, mainly Buddhist statues, including two huge stone statues of Buddha (55 meters and 38 meters) believed to have been built between 4th and 6th century AD and located in Bamiyan in central Afghanistan. Many of these heritages face the danger of destruction and deterioration due to prolonged conflict, never to be repaired.

(2) On 26 February, the Taliban's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar issued an edict to destroy all ancient statues in Afghanistan, including Buddhist stone cave carvings, stating that they represented idolatry, which is forbidden by Islam. Subsequently on 27 February, he declared that he disavowed the historical and cultural importance of domestic cultural heritage.

(3) On 6 March, the United Nations Security Council issued a presidential statement condemning this edict of destruction. On 9 March, a General Assembly resolution was unanimously adopted to urge the Taliban to reconsider the edict.

(4) On 11 March, although Secretary-General Kofi Annan of the United Nations, who was visiting the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, met and had talks with Mr. Mutawakil, the Taliban's "Foreign Minister," discussions failed to reach an agreement and no assurance was secured regarding the reconsideration of the edict. Furthermore, the Federal Minister for the Interior of Pakistan, Prime Minister of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, representatives from the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) (Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Ahmad Abdallah al-Mahmud of the State of Qatar headed the delegation accompanied by religious leaders from Egypt and other countries) and other envoys conducted talks with the Taliban, but no positive progress was made in the situation.

(5) The Kabul Museum was considered to be heavily destroyed. As for the two statues of Buddha in Bamiyan, it was difficult to verify the fact of destruction because access to this region was totally prohibited. However, Japanese media, whose access to the region was permitted, finally disclosed images of the totally destroyed statues on 27 March.

2. Japan's Response

(1) On 1 March, the Press Secretary/Director-General for Press and Public Relations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement noting Japan's deepest concern over the Taliban's edict to destroy all statues in Afghanistan, and its firm hope that the Taliban reconsider the said edict and take proper measures for the preservation of cultural heritage.

(2) Artist Mr. Ikuo Hirayama, in collaboration with museum curators from the United States, United Kingdom, France and other countries, appealed to the Taliban as well engaging in activities to gather signatures and raise funds in Japan. Presently, more than two million yen has been raised and more than 7,500 signatures gathered. On 4 March, Mr. Hirayama issued a message urging the Taliban not to blast Bamiyan's ancient monuments, but instead consider dismantling them in such a way that would enable their reconstruction at a later date.

(3) On 5 March, Japanese Ambassador to Pakistan Sadaaki Numata conveyed his deepest concerns to Taliban "Ambassador" to Pakistan Zaeef. Ambassador Numata also communicated Mr. Hirayama's message at the same time he made the protest.

(4) On 7 March, Minister for Foreign Affairs Yohei Kono sent a letter to the foreign ministers and other representatives of the eight Gulf countries (Islamic countries, including the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the Republic of Yemen and the Islamic Republic of Iran) urging them to appeal to the Taliban to reconsider the edict.

(5) On 8 March, Foreign Minister Kono spoke with Director-General Koichiro Matsuura of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on the phone and consulted with him on a range of matters, including enhancing communication between the representatives of the three ruling parties and UNESCO Special Envoy Pierre Lafrance, exchanging information on contact with the Taliban side thus far and making future approaches to the Taliban. After the consultations, Foreign Minister Kono dispatched an additional letter to Amir Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani of the State of Qatar (Chair of the OIC), Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdus Sattar of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and Secretary-General Ahmad Esmat Abdul-Maguid of the Arab League.

(6) On 7 March, the three ruling parties dispatched a delegation, comprising Diet member Akihiko Kumashiro of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Diet member Kenshiro Matsunami of the New Conservative Party and Chairman of the Public Relations Committee Otohiko Endo of New Komeito, to Afghanistan to issue a proposal to the Taliban. The delegation carried with them the letter from Foreign Minister Kono and the signatures gathered by Mr. Hirayama (see above), and met with "Foreign Minister" Mutawakil on 9 March. (The delegation's meeting with Mullah Mohammed Omar did not materialize and they were also denied access into Bamiyan).

(7) On 2 March, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee of the Republic of India sent a letter to Prime Minister Mori voicing his criticism of the Taliban, noting that the international community should unite its efforts to bring a halt to the destruction of the statues. On 13 March, Prime Minister Mori issued a letter in response to Prime Minister Vajpayee.

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