UNESCO and EU International Conference gathers key stakeholders in the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property

4 August 2022

On 9 June 2022, UNESCO, in partnership with the European Union, organized ''Strengthening the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property - a UNESCO/European Union Conference''. Held at UNESCO Headquarters, the Conference brought together representatives of international organizations, the art market, government officials and experts from academia, the financial sector, the judiciary, and law-enforcement as well as young people. The Conference was organized within the framework of the project "Inter-regional and crosscutting action aiming to strengthen the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property", and focused on three main themes: interregional cooperation, interdisciplinary perspectives and education.

At the opening ceremony, the importance of coordinated international cooperation in the implementation of the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property was reaffirmed.

"We welcome the dialogue that has been initiated with each of the actors involved - your role is essential in promoting the 1970 Convention."
Ernesto Ottone R.

Assistant Director-General for Culture, UNESCO

The representative of the European Union underlined the importance of close collaboration with UNESCO and all relevant stakeholders through the public consultation for the EU Action Plan to combat illicit trafficking in cultural goods.

"Five years ago, the European Union and UNESCO saw the need for concerted and joint action to strengthen the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural goods. Since 2017, several thousands of professionals have participated in training workshops and have become focal points of information and support."
Pauline Rouch

Head of Cabinet of Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, the European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, European Commission

The historical and philosophical background of the topic of the Conference was presented by French-Polish historian-philosopher Prof. Krzysztof Pomian, who put into context the importance of cultural property, its intangible value for the memory and cultural identity of peoples.

The first panel discussed the necessity of interregional and international cooperation. Peer-to-peer meetings involving different countries and professional disciplines were seen as fruitful platforms for exchange and co-operation by representatives from Algeria, the Netherlands and Serbia. Participants also reflected on INTERPOL's action as an international law enforcement actor, such as the latest Pandora operation.

The second panel gathered experts from different disciplines as well as key partners, such as the Council of Europe and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), to discuss ways of combating cultural property crimes. Participants stressed that the link between illicit trafficking and terrorism and war crimes should be more widely recognized, and recalled that trafficking in cultural property causes significant damage to communities in conflict zones. A representative of the Council of Europe Convention on Offences Against Cultural Property (Nicosia Convention 2017) underlined the need to provide legal tools to prosecutors and lawyers.

Interdisciplinary perspectives on the topic of transparency were the focus of the third panel discussion, which brought together representatives of the art market, the financial sector, museums, and researchers. They shared their views on the challenges of implementing regulations on market transparency and provenance research, as well as the current difficulties regarding illicit online transactions. While recognizing the importance of legal measures, such as the work of the Drafting Committee for the Model Provisions on the Prevention and Fight against the Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Property, and the Working Group on the revision of the International Code of Ethics for Dealers in Cultural Property, participants stressed the ethical dimension of any action related to cultural objects, their collection and trade.

Educational and awareness-raising efforts were explored in the fourth panel, which gathered representatives and experts from different countries, ICCROM, as well as a students association. Panelists shared a wide range of experiences, tools, and good practices of working with and raising awareness of different audiences. Initiatives such as the UNESCO Campus on How to fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property?, which gathered students from different European UNESCO Chairs and UNITWIN Networks were highlighted, as well as ways to include educational and awareness-raising measures in the elaboration of the UNESCO Flagship Programme for Africa, Fostering cultural heritage and capacity development. While acknowledging the variety of existing educational material, such as the UNESCO-ICCROM Emergency Evacuation of Heritage Collections and the Toolkit for European judiciary and law enforcement, participants stressed the need to further develop and adapt educational materials for different audiences, including young people.

During the closing session, the representative of the European Union underlined the complexity of the challenges faced by the illicit trafficking of cultural property, and the important measures that have been undertaken thus far, such as the activities implemented during the ongoing and previous UNESCO EU projects, as well as the International Conference in September 2021.

"We need to continue our awareness raising efforts because they do make a difference. All the relevant professionals and the general public must understand the importance of combatting the illicit trafficking of cultural goods for the protection of our cultural heritage, for our security and for the reliability and proper functioning of the art market."
Tamas Szücs

Director for Culture, Creativity and Sport, Directorate General for Education and Culture, European Commission

This conference promoted good practices and tools for prevention against looting and prosecution of illicit trafficking. It also stressed the need for interdisciplinary and interregional professional exchange among peers, international cooperation and continued dialogue. The outcome demonstrated the relevance of the activities carried out by UNESCO in partnership with the European Union and highlighted the importance of continuing efforts jointly in the future.

For more information:
Conference Programme
Conference video
Website of the UNESCO EU project

Original article

Permanent link: http://en.unesco.kz/unesco-and-eu-international-conference-gathers-key-stakeholders-in-the-fight-against