20.09.2017 - UNESCO Office in Beirut

Regional Training Workshop on the Prevention of Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Objects

On 18-20 September 2017, UNESCO Beirut hosted the first World Customs Organization (WCO) Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Train-the Trainer Session for Customs officers on the prevention of illicit trafficking of cultural objects. The Session was organized s in cooperation with the UNESCO Regional Office in Beirut , the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs and supported by the Lebanese Customs.

While Customs authorities are becoming more aware of the growing threat of illicit trafficking of cultural objects and their possible linkage with other crimes and terrorist financing, it is apparent from the alarming reports of UNESCO and other organizations as well as from the United Nations Security Council Resolutions 2199 (2015) and 2347 (2017) that illicit trafficking of cultural objects is a serious problem that has become a security threat in some regions. Criminal groups and terrorist organizations continue to benefit from gaps in national legislation and weaknesses in global supply chains.

In July 2016 the WCO Council adopted the WCO Resolution on the Role of Customs in Preventing Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Objects in order to reaffirm the commitment of the international Customs community and to deploy actions to prevent this menace. This regional Train-the-Trainer Session is one of those activities and is also a follow-up of the WCO MENA workshop on ‘The role of Customs in security and development: the function of cultural heritage protection’, organized by the WCO in Hammamet, Tunisia, in the end of April 2017. The objective of the first workshop was to analyse the role of Customs in fragile borderlands and how this role could be translated in the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural objects. The issues raised by the participants were summarized in the specific Recommendations adopted at the end of the workshop by the participants. One particular Recommendation related to the need to deliver a Train-the-Trainer Session in the MENA region, addressing the topics outlined in the Recommendations.

Therefore, the regional training in Beirut addresses the issues raised in the Recommendations, and serves as a practical hands-on training for traininers from Customs administrations in the MENA region. The training session was delivered by the representatives of INTERPOL, other law enforcement agencies, Ministries of Culture, the Lebanese Directorate General of Antiquities and academia.

The opening session was attended by the President of the Lebanese Higher Council of Customs, Mr. Assaad Tfaily, WCO representatives, trainers from different institutions and representatives of thirteen Customs administrations from the MENA region.

In his welcome note, Joe Kreidi, UNESCO Beirut’s Programme Officer for Culture, emphasized that “the cultural property of a country is not merely a commodity traded on world markets, it is an embodiment of its history and the identity of its people, and its loss due to theft and illicit trafficking can lead to the disintegration of societies or their inability to develop and recover, especially after crises.” He added : “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, our meeting today is of utmost importance, as it responds to the need of coordinating national and international efforts to protect human heritage”. Kreidi highlighted that UNESCO, who makes it a priority to protect heritage, “supports all parties concerned with the implementation of Security Council resolutions, in particular resolution No. (2347 - 2017), which explicitly states that attacks against archaeological sites and buildings shall be considered a war crime under international law and urges Member States to take the necessary steps to prevent and combat the illicit trafficking in cultural property”. Hence, “the value of this regional workshop in providing support to local customs institutions in the Middle East and North Africa through practical training on how to combat illicit trafficking in cultural property, especially at borders”.

As to Mr Tfaily, he stated that : “Being rich in cultural heritage and being labelled as “the cradle of civilizations”, it is Lebanon’s duty to protect heritage and prevent smuggling and illicit trafficking of cultural properties”. Tfaily reasserted the Lebanese Customs’ commitment to fight the illicit trafficking of cultural objects, highlighting the value of this workshop as “a platform for the exchange of information, experiences and expertise among participants”.

In turn, Mrs Michele Medina, recalled the WCO Resolution adopted in July 2016 on the Role of Customs in Preventing Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Objects, highlighting the need to bring this Resolution into action. She emphasized this regional workshop serves as “a platform to help Members in the region in implementing the WCO Resolution, and to support future joint operational activities in the field and create or reinforce connections between members as well as other stakeholders in order to combine forces and expertise to combat this form of crime”. Mrs Medina concluded by reaffirming WCO’s commitment to work closely with its Members and key stakeholders to build the necessary capacities to protect cultural heritage.

During the three-day workshop, participants learnt about the identification and handling of cultural objects as well as about dedicated tools and instruments, developed by the WCO, INTERPOL, International Council of Museums (ICOM) and other international partners. They also explored different mechanisms to reinforce law enforcement cooperation to prevent illicit trafficking of cultural objects.

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