08.07.2018 - UNESCO Office in Nairobi

Ethiopia strengthens its capacities to fight the illicit trafficking of cultural property through prevention, cooperation and restitution

Participants in the object ID exercise during the national workshop in Ethiopia (c) Marina Schneider/UNIDROIT

Following Ethiopia’s ratification of the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property in November 2017, UNESCO and the Ethiopian Ministry of Culture and Tourism organized a three-day national workshop from 4 to 6 July 2018 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to strengthen capacities for the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property.

UNESCO, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the Ethiopian Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Property (AARCH) invited 70 heritage professionals, police and customs agents, media, a representative from the Orthodox Churches of Ethiopia and from Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other stakeholders to a three day workshop to strengthen implementation of the UNESCO 1970 Convention for the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property. The participants were also able to learn about the benefits of ratification of the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects, which is considered a “sister convention” to the 1970 Convention and offers complimentary provisions on restitution.


Ms. Mamitu Yilma Gebru, Head of the Office of the Minister from the Minsitry of Culture and Tourism opened the workshop, alongside Mr. Yonas Desta, Director-General of AARCH and the new UNESCO Director and Representative to Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, the African Union Commission UNECA, Ms. Ana Elisa Santana Afonso.


Ms. Gebru pointed out the need for a wide ranging training programme to raise awareness and skills in protecting Ethiopia’s heritage, and she thanked UNESCO for organizing this capacity building forum. During his intervetion, Mr. Desta lamented the numerous Ethiopian objects in European, North American and Middle Eastern Museums and proclamied that “Ethiopia expects justice from these looters”. He concluded by stating that “strengthening legislation in Ethiopia is an imperative” for the sustainable protection of Ethiopia’s cultural heritage.

During her opening remarks, Ms. Santana Afonso pointed out that “Ethiopia is among the African countries that lost its cultural artifacts during the colonial era and after. The iconic Axum Obelisk is a world-renown example of this. A more recent testimony is the exhibition mounted by the Victoria and Albert Museum in Britain, featuring the royal and religious artifacts plundered from Ethiopia in 1868 during the Battle of Meqdala.” In closing, she reassured Ethiopia of UNESCO’s support and congratulated Ethiopia on the recent ratification of the UNESCO 1970 Convention.

The opening ceremony for the workshop was followed by a press conference with 25 national media representatives, who interviewed the representaive from the Minsitry of Culture and Tourism, the Director General of AARCH, and UNESCO Culture Programme representatives from Addis and Nairobi Offices.

Following the press conference, UNESCO presented an overview of the portfolio of normative instruments in the field of culture. The Director of the National Museum of Ethiopia, Mr. Ephrem Amare, gave a presentation on the legal and institutional frameworks in Ethiopia for the protection of movable heritage. He pointed out how Ethiopia has a strong system of legal protection for its natural and cultural heritage, including being State Party to five of the six UNESCO Conventions in the field of Culture. This was followed by a presentation on culture in the United Nations Agenda 2030 and the African Union Vision 2063.

The workshop provided a detailed overview of the 1970 UNESCO Convention and the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention. Mr. Edouard Planche from UNESCO reviewed the three pillars of protection in fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property: preventive measures, restitution and international cooperation. The need to build capacity, raise awareness and develop policies was also highlighted. During her presentation on the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention, Ms. Marina Schneider pointed out the differences and complementarity between the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects and the UNESCO 1970 Convention.


Participants discussed the link between illicit trafficking of cultural heritage and funding of terrorists organizations. In the presence of the representative from the Orthodox Churches of Ethiopia, UNESCO highlighted the need to raise awareness of threat to religious heritage and the vulnerability of churches and other places of worship to illicit trafficking of cultural property. The heightened risks of illicit trafficking during conflicts and after natural disasters was also underscored.

The workshop also focused on policy, customs and cultural heritage protection services and included presentations on practical tools and resources such as the International Council of Museums’ (ICOM) Red Lists and Code of Ethics, the UNIDROIT web site on cultural property, the UNESCO Database of National Cultural Heritage Laws as well as model legislations and export certificates.

UNESCO announced the agreement between UNESCO and the Art Laws Centre- University of Geneva to provide examples of successful restitution cases around the world on the ArThemis database.

Mr. Corrado Catesi and Mr. Paolo Pellegrino from the Stolen Works of Art Unit at INTERPOL Headquarters in Lyon, participated by video conference and introduced the INTERPOL Database on Stolen Works of Art, which combines descriptions and pictures of cultural objects reported as stolen by Member Countries. The INTERPOL Database currently contains 51,000 stolen objects from 134 countries around the world. Since 2009, the database has been accessible to the public through a simple registration process. During his presentation, Mr. Pellegrino highlighted the importance of having good quality photos, which show the unique features of the stolen objects. He also announced the integration of a new image comparison software as part of INTERPOL’s Database. Lastly, he announced a new mobile phone application to consult and compare images on stolen objects. This new tool will significantly facilitate and accelerate the work of police and customs agents.

Mr. Tsegaye Haile, Commander and Head of the NCB at INTERPOL-Ethiopia presented the role of INTERPOL in the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property in Ethiopia. In his presentation, he lamented the lack of use of the INTERPOL Database of Works of Art on a national level due to a lack of information about stolen artworks from Ethiopia. He encouraged closer collaboration among INTERPOL-Ethiopia, AARCH and the National Customs Authority.

This workshop provided a first opportunity for INTERPOL-Ethiopia and AARCH to meet and discuss ways for collaboration among the nine federal states of Ethiopia” said Mr. Haile. “The police and law enforcement agencies have a general lack of knowledge about both Ethiopian and other countries’ laws and regulations on the export and import of cultural objects,” Mr. Haile added. He recommended training courses for police and other law-enforcement services and customs with the support of cultural institutions as well as awareness-raising initiatives. He also encouraged the increased report thefts immediately to the police or other law enforcement authorities, which should include a list of stolen items together with photographs. Participants undertook a practical exercise entitled “A case study on the sale of archaeological objects on the internet”, which presented the steps to be taken on a national level to file a case for restitution. The exercise demonstrated the need to work quickly and assemble the background documentation and alert all of the key players in the national network. The participants discussed the possibility of developing a Red List of Ethiopian Objects in collaboration with ICOM. The examples of INTERPOL “Most Wanted” list and the Heritage Passport created for Mali were also shared as good examples. Following this, Associate Professor Tekele Hagos from the Addis Ababa University presented the security and risk assessments needed for Ethiopian archaeological sites and museums.

The final day of the workshop offered participants the opportunity to test their skills with practical exercises, such as filling out the Object ID Standard Form for basic inventory of cultural objects. UNESCO also presented awareness raising tools and activities available for use or adaptation at the national level.

The workshop resulted in the following five recommendations considered by the participants as a priority for future actions to fight illicit trafficking of cultural property in Ethiopia:

  1. Create a national network of stakeholders to coordinate efforts for the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural properties in Ethiopia, including increased collaboration between INTERPOL-NCB, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and the Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage (AARCH), and to enhance collaboration regionally and internationally; as well as to involve universities and students in research and documentation necessary for the protection of cultural property;

  2. Organize training for law enforcement agencies (police and customs) with the support of national cultural institutions (AARCH, museums, etc);

  1. Update inventories of cultural property, notably in museums and places of worship, and mapping of archaeological sites; and involve universities and students in research and documentation necessary for the protection of cultural property;

  2. Encourage accession by Ethiopia to the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects and ratification of the Second Protocol (1999) of the 1954 UNESCO Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict ;

  3. Increase preventive measures recommended by the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.

For more information:

UNESCO 1970 Convention

UNIDROIT

AARCH

UNESCO Database of National Cultural Heritage Laws

INTERPOL Database on Stolen Works of Art

Awareness-raising videos

Video on the Values of heritage




<- Back to: UNESCO Office in Nairobi
Back to top