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Countering Destruction of and trafficking in cultural property: from lessons learned to implementation

Roundtable discussion on countering destruction of and trafficking in cultural property © UNESCO

3 June 2015, United Nations Headquarters, New York

On 3 June, 2015 at the United Nations Headquarters, UNESCO New York Office co-organized with the Permanent Missions of Italy and Jordan a roundtable discussion on “Countering Destruction of and trafficking in cultural property: from lessons learned to implementation”.

The discussion focused on current trends in the illicit traffic of cultural objects, especially the growing threats originating from situations of armed conflict, the issue of ownership, and the necessary traceability of such objects, the use of illicit trafficking for financing terrorism, the role of the police and customs in the context of the art market today.

The participants expressed deep concern over the increasing number of the barbaric destruction and terrorist attacks against the cultural heritage of countries affected by armed conflict, and over the unprecedented illicit trafficking in cultural objects.

Throughout the roundtable discussion, the role of UNESCO in preserving cultural heritage and countering illicit trafficking of cultural property was highlighted, including by the Ambassador H.E Sebastiano Cardi, Permanent Representative of Italy to the United Nations. He outlined that his government is a strong believer in preserving cultural diversity and safeguarding cultural heritage thus Italy is one of the first countries to establish a police division to prevent illicit trafficking of cultural objects. In addition to his introductory words, Ambassador Dina Kawar, Permanent Representative of Jordan to the United Nations, outlined the recently adopted Executive Board decision 169 that touches on UNESCO’s mandate in the areas of cultural protection in times of armed conflict.

Speaking for the Organization, Mr. Edouard Planche, Secretariat of the 1970 Convention, UNESCO, pointed out the current efforts to safeguard the cultural heritage in Syria and Iraq, including through the creation of an international observatory and a network of experts to enhance cooperation among international actors.  In this context, he highlighted the strengthened collaboration with a network of organizations, including Interpol, world customs, French and Spanish police, Carabinieri and UNODC. He put forward new ideas and proposals such as the protected cultural zones, the integration of heritage into peace-keeping missions and humanitarian aid, monitoring of “cultural cleansings” as early warning tool for prevention of genocide, blue helmets for heritage etc.

A diverse spectrum of panellists - representatives of INTERPOL, UNODC, Carabinieri and Antiquities Coalition -  presented their ideas on how to provide efficient training, funding as well as how to tackle the need to increase the international cooperation in the fight against illicit traffic, to better prevent illegal conducts and to promote the return and restitution of cultural property.

The discussion was taken forward with strong interventions by the Ambassadors of Iraq, Cyprus, Poland, Mexico, Mali, Turkey, Hungary, USA and the Russian Federation.

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