06.06.2018 - UNESCO Office in Brasilia

Cooperation is one of the main actions against the illicit traffic of cultural goods

The main result of the seminar “Protection and Circulation of Cultural Goods: Fight Illicit Trafficking” was the compromise, agreed by different actors involved; in adopting an orchestrated action of cooperation by the responsible entities to prevent the illicit trafficking of cultural properties. Now the idea is construct together a national public policy witch guarantees the protection and the circulation of those properties, as well as fights the illegal trafficking.

The Seminar happened this week, between 4 and 5  June,2018, and gathered representatives of several government bodies involved with the thematic, such as the  Ministry of Culture, the National Institute of Historic and Artistic Heritage (Iphan), the Federal Police, the Brazilian Institute of Museums (Ibram), the Federal Revenue (tariff), the Public Prosecutor Office, the Audit Office, the Regional Federal Court, the Ministry of Treasury and the National Library Foundation (FBN). The event also counted with the participation of representatives from  international organizations - like the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the International Council of Museums (ICOM) – and from associations of the cultural industry and the private sector. Case studies of other countries of Latin America were also presented during the seminar.

A fact which the Institute Itaú Cultural has faced was the kick-off for the execution of this event. The Institute acquired eight illustrations in England that, unknowingly, had been stolen from the National Library in 2004. The pieces were returned to the Library, but the episode raised the debate that, although Brazil has laws and registry databases for this type of fact, the country does not yet have a clear and articulated national public policy on the subject.  Moreover, this is still the case in many countries around the world, according to Edouard Planche, the specialist on the subject from UNESCO Headquarters.

By presenting UNESCO’s normative instruments for the subject, among them the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, known as the 1970 Convention, Planche warned that “once cultural properties are stolen, it is too late. It is very hard to bring back these objects and they end up going to antique fairs or being sold on the internet and it is very difficult to track them”.

The Minister of Culture of Brazil, Sérgio Sá Leitão, states that to fight the illicit trafficking of cultural properties “it is necessary to congregate in one joint effort, articulated and planned”. The involvement, sharing of information and intragovernmental cooperation, in other words, of several Ministries (Culture, Foreign Affairs, Justice, Finance, Education, Tourism, etc.), the Public Prosecutor Office, the Police and the Federal Revenue are essential. However, the cooperation of civil society, of international bodies related to the subject, of neighboring countries and of the private sector are also necessary. For the Minister, “the confronting of this problem will only succeed if there is mobilization of the private entities”.

The Representative a.i. of UNESCO in Brazil, Marlova Jovchelovitch Noleto, emphasized “the normative function of UNESCO, which has a number of conventions and recommendations in the area of culture”. She also highlighted the “importance of the 1970 Convention, which is the main international normative document on the subject, being discussed in an event such as this, aiming to improve the prevention against illicit trafficking and the protection of our cultural properties”. She explained that the subject is bleak and, while the Convention has existed since 1970 and that Brazil has been a signatory since 1973, there are no records of major actions in what refers to the promotion of the subject.

To Marlova, preventing illicit trafficking is only possible if there is cooperation. She informs that cooperation is the third pillar of the 1970 Convention. Moreover, although it is the third pillar of the Convention, cooperation is essential for the fulfillment of the other two pillars. “The amplified presence of partners – such as the Federal Police and the Public Prosecutor Office – in the event is essential in establishing an articulated and cooperative action so that we can fulfill the first pillar of the Convention, which is the prevention of illicit trafficking. Once it is not possible to fulfill this first pillar, cooperation is also necessary attain the second pillar, which is the restitution of the properties”, states the Representative.

For the Director of Itaú Cultural, Eduardo Saron, the discussions of the two days of the event can be summarized in three C’s: communication, cooperation and confidence. To him, it is necessary to have quality information circulating amongst the partners involved, cooperation among these partners and a relationship of confidence in one another. The General-Coordinator of Cooperation and International Relations of the Ministry of Culture in Brazil, Adam Muniz, added another “c” to Saron's list: capacity building. To Muniz, it is necessary to capacitate the many actors involved in international, regional and national norms on illicit trafficking of cultural properties. Among these norms are two instruments of UNESCO: the 1970 Convention and the Recommendation concerning the Protection and Promotion of Museums and Collections, their Diversity and their Role in Society  (2015).

National Policy

The specialist on the subject from UNESCO Headquarters, Edouard Planche, sees as positive the initiative of the Ministry of Culture of Brazil to create a national policy, using what has been learned with the Itaú Cultural case, which was one of the few in the world to have a happy conclusion. “I believe that Brazilian authorities are really committed to advancing in this subject and have sought UNESCO’s support to build a real national policy, a strategy to strengthen the cooperation in Latin America, in bordering countries, and also so that Brazil can be more proactive in the implementation of the 1970 Convention”.

The UNESCO Office in Brazil is also collaborating in building the policy. By means of an international technical cooperation project with the Ministry of Culture, a study is being carried out to subsidize a diagnostic that will assist in the elaboration of the new policy.

Among the recommendations suggested at the event is the creation of a National Council, established by means of a Presidential Decree and headed by the Ministry of Justice. The involved governmental actors, as well as representatives of the private initiative and the third sector would participate of this entity. Another recommendation is the creation of a Brazilian Red List – a list managed by ICOM that identifies cultural properties that are endangered and in vulnerable areas in order to prevent the illicit sale and exportation.

About the event

Around 550 people attended the Seminar Protection and Circulation of Cultural Properties: Fighting the Illicit Trafficking, among them specialists on the subject and actors who are essential in fighting illicit trafficking, such as representatives of the Federal Police and the Federal Revenue. The Ministry of Culture and the Institute Itaú Cultural, organized the event, and counted on the cooperation of UNESCO in Brazil and the Brazilian Committee of ICOM. It also had the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Iphan, Ibram and FBN. The live broadcast on the internet had accesses even from abroad Brazil.


Press Information:

UNESCO in Brazil

Fabiana Pullen, f.sousa(at)unesco.org, +55 (61)2106-3596 or +55 (61)99848-8971


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