14.09.2012 - UNESCO Office in Dakar

Intensifying the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property in West Africa

The opening ceremony on 17 September 2012 © Tine Ismaël

West Africa, especially the Sahel, is facing a renewed threat of illicit trafficking of cultural property.

The current situation in Mali has significantly increased the danger, and UNESCO is concerned about the cultural heritage of the country, particularly in the northern part of Mali. Other countries in the sub-region are also the target of looters and traffickers.

"We need to mobilize more countries in the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property. It's  imperative to develop legal and operational capacities, both at national level and through sub-regional cooperation," says Ann Therese Ndong-Jatta, Director of UNESCO's Regional Office in Dakar.

Raise awareness of the problem

UNESCO Dakar is therefore organizing a sub-regional meeting on 17 to 19 September 2012 on the theme of Capacity-building and awareness-raising in the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property in West Africa.

The meeting will take place in Dakar, bringing together 40 experts and professionals from 15 countries in the sub-region, including representatives of Ministries of Culture, museum professionals lawyers, police offices including Interpol and customs officers.

The opening ceremony will be chaired by the Minister of Culture and Tourism of Senegal, S. Exc. Mr. Youssou N'Dour in the presence of the Director of UNESCO-Dakar, Ann Therese Ndong-Jatta.

Returning cultural objects

Training modules, led by UNESCO and its partners - UNIDROIT, INTERPOL, the School of African Heritage and the National Museum of Mali - will focus on the implementation of the relevant international and national legislations. 

They will also include discussions of various methods for returning cultural objects, as well as good practices to prevent illicit traffic in the first place.

The pivotal role of the police 

The meeting will look into the pivotal role of police and customs officers in the fight against illicit trafficking, as well as the importance of media and awareness-raising measures, including the fight against fraudulent transactions over the Internet.

According to Alain Godonou, former director of the Ecole du patrimoine africain (School of African Heritage - EPA) and now Director of UNESCO’s Division of Cultural Objects and Intangible Heritage, most African countries have lost 95% of their cultural property. 

The meeting is part of a series of training sessions organized by UNESCO in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as in South Eastern Europe to strengthen the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural objects in UNESCO Member States. 

It is estimated that illicit trafficking of cultural property amounts to at least US$ 2 billion per year.


The press is invited to cover the opening ceremony on 17 september at 9 am at UNESCO Dakar (BREDA). 

A press conference is planned to be held at the closure of the meeting, on 19 September at 4pm. 


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