20.09.2017 - Culture Sector

Specialized police units gathered to protect the underwater cultural heritage

Participants of the first INTERPOL-UNESCO International Conference on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage © INTERPOL

On 14 and 15 September 2017, police and law enforcement bodies met at INTERPOL Headquarters, to share experiences and discuss best practices to prevent and fight crimes against the preservation of the submerged archaeological sites.

INTERPOL organized, in collaboration with UNESCO, the first international conference on the protection of the underwater cultural heritage, which was addressed to specialized police units and relevant law enforcement bodies. The meeting was an important step forward in the implementation of the UNESCO 2001 Convention. It was attended by experts from over 25 countries – both States Parties and non-States Parties to the 2001 Convention - with varying levels of experience in the prevention and fight against the looting, pillage, illicit trafficking and unethical recovery of underwater cultural objects.

Importantly, the participants underlined the need to liaise with national competent cultural authorities to ensure effective national coordination, to establish national inventories of submerged archaeological sites, as well as to increase international cooperation. The key role of the civil society in the protection of submerged sites, notably the role of recreational divers and local fishermen, was illustrated by best practices presented by different police representatives and also discussed with the presence of the World Underwater Federation (CMAS).

The UNESCO 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage has been ratified by 58 Member States. States are encouraged to improve their efforts to achieve a wider implementation of the 2001 Convention in all waters, including international waters, in particular regarding the protection of submerged archaeological sites and the prevention of pillaging and commercial exploitation of underwater cultural heritage.

UNESCO reinforced once more its collaboration with INTERPOL in the protection of cultural heritage by covering also the underwater cultural heritage and the stolen cultural objects from underwater environments.

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