Myanmar, India and China have all pursued UNESCO World Heritage status for sites of mass victimisation of minorities.

While preserving the archaeological remnants of "the heart of the largest Buddhist empire of its time" (from the 9th to 13th century) at Bagan, Myanmar has simultaneously been erasing all traces of the living Muslim-majority Rohingya from the landscape: physically, historically, socially, culturally, and legally.

Just two days before UNESCO's World Heritage announcement, international human rights lawyer Christopher Sidoti, a member of the UN fact-finding mission, told an academic conference that the now-decimated Rohingya population in Myanmar remains confined to concentration camps and ghettos "like those Jews lived in under Nazi-occupied Europe".


From China to India to Myanmar, a common thread is the persistently colonial conceptualisation of "heritage" - as a collection of aesthetic commodities severed from the social context that gives them life and meaning, as cultural fossils disinterred from their human soil.

It was in the name of safeguarding humanity's "heritage" that European colonisers appointed themselves the rightful guardians of the rest of the world's treasures, while ruthlessly dismantling the civilisations that produced them. It is in the name of "heritage" that the United States parades as the protector of Iraq's precious artefacts, having illegally invaded the "cradle of civilisation" and ripped it apart for spoils.

Equally enduring, however, is the cultural resistance of the people who have been colonised, subjected to genocide, and dispossessed; the people who continue to bring poetry, music, dance, and art into the world, in defiance of the powers violently determined to erase them.