27.09.2017 - UNESCO Office in Beirut

National workshop “Preventing Illicit Traffic in Cultural Property: The Role of Customs and Security Forces”

Under the patronage of H.E. Minister of Culture Dr. Ghattas Khoury, UNESCO Beirut organized in collaboration with the Lebanese National Commission for UNESCO, the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) and the World Customs Organization (WCO), a national training workshop on “Preventing Illicit Traffic in Cultural Property: The Role of Customs and Security Forces”, at Printania Palace in Broumana on 22-23 September 2017.

The workshop falls under UNESCO’s “Unite for Heritage” campaign that focuses on alerting the international community to the dangers of the illegal export of cultural relics and artifacts since the beginning of the armed conflicts in Syria and Iraq. The workshop aims at enabling the participants to take full advantage of the tools developed by international organizations, particularly UNESCO 1970 Convention, and UN Security Council Resolutions 2199/2015, 2253/2015 and 2347/2017, as well as providing a forum of discussion among participants in order to develop an efficient national approach to fight the illegal trafficking of cultural properties.

The workshop brought together experts from France, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey, as well as representatives of national authorities responsible for the enforcement of cultural property protection: Customs, Interpol, Lebanese Army, Police departments, the Directorate General of the Internal Security Forces, and representatives of the Directorate General of Antiquities in Lebanon and Museums. The opening session was attended by Mr. Issa Zeidan, representative of H.E. the Minister of Culture Ghattas Khoury, Prof. Zahida Darwiche Jabbour, the Secretary General of the Lebanese National Commission for UNESCO, Ms. Mariya Polner, representative of the WCO, Mr. Hardy Roehling, director of the Beirut office of the ICMPD, and Joe Kreidi, Programme Officer of the Culture sector at UNESCO Beirut.

In his welcome note, Kreidi noted that : “In light of what is happening today around us, from the spread of obscurantism and the obliteration of the civilizations of the region to the illicit trafficking of its cultural properties, it is of utmost importance that we meet to coordinate national and international efforts to protect human heritage.” Kreidi highlighted that UNESCO makes it a priority to protect heritage, through its 1970 “Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property”, signed by 137 states. Kreidi emphasized that “protecting human heritage today is an important step toward building peace in the future”.

Mr Zeidan said: “This workshop provides an opportunity for the exchange of know-how and expertise and allows the participants to agree on concrete actions to support the role of the different actors in charge of the protection of cultural heritage, including custom forces, the Interpol, the army, and internal security forces”.

Prof. Zahida Darwiche Jabbour, in turn, highlighted the urgency to fight against the illicit traffic of cultural properties, noting that illicit trade in cultural properties “often serves as a means to finance terrorism, and exacerbates conflicts as it provides armed groups and terrorists with financial resources”. Jabbour mentioned an INTERPOL report according to which illicit trade in cultural properties is worth a total value of 6 billion dollars. Jabbour emphasized that “Lebanon can play a central role in combating the illicit traffic in cultural property, due to its geographic proximity of conflict zones, and thanks to the progress the country’s Security Forces have achieved in the past years”.

Ms Mariya Polner and Mr Hardy Roehling reasserted the WCO’s and the ICMPD’s commitment to support all parties and efforts to prevent and fight the illicit traffic in cultural property. They invited the participants to use this workshop as a platform of exchange of expertise and coordination of efforts.

During the two-day workshop, participants attended interactive sessions where they exchanged knowledge and experiences, and discussed the main challenges to fight the illicit traffic in cultural property, and ways to coordinate efforts.

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