17.11.2017 - UNESCO Venice Office

Montenegro and Serbia to develop capacities on protection against illicit traffic of cultural property

Italian Carabinieri “Recovered Treasures” Exhibition at the Maison de l’UNESCO (May 2017); I Grifoni di Ascoli Satriano

As the black market trade in cultural objects continues to flourish, illicit traffic of cultural property is of growing concern for the international community. Not only does it threaten the physical integrity of the items themselves, and the sites they came from, but also the cultural heritage and identity of the affected communities. Heritage belongs to everyone and the safeguard of its cultural and spiritual value within its original context is crucial. In its fourth edition in Rome (Italy) from 20-24 November 2017, the training workshop will address two countries from South-East Europe, Montenegro and Serbia, with the aim to raise awareness and develop professional capacities of the concerned authorities to contrast the looting and illicit trafficking of cultural property, including through reinforced inter-agency and cross-border cooperation.

The fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property is a priority on the political agenda about culture of South-East Europe (SEE). Since 2006, the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe is active in promoting and supporting the regional cooperation on the fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural property in the region. Outcomes and recommendations from initial meetings called for the enhancement of capacity-building actions at the national and regional levels in the SEE countries - with special focus on the coordination among relevant institutional stakeholders including police forces, ministries of culture, customs agencies, and judiciary bodies. The development of human and institutional capacities is also a main concern in the action of UNESCO in this field, specifically on issues such as national inventories, information and communication, exchange of best practices, and awareness raising.

Along these very principles, UNESCO, through its Regional Bureau in Europe, has developed a programme of activities, which included notably a regional capacity-building workshop for South-East Europe in Turkey (2012); the production of awareness-raising clips in English and in different languages from the region (2012-2013); and, 3 national training workshops for the benefit of The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (2014), Albania (2015) and Bosnia and Herzegovina (2016), in cooperation with the Italian Carabinieri - Cultural Heritage Protection Department.

In 2014, the renewed Council of Ministers of Culture of South-East Europe -Enhancing Culture for Sustainable Development (CoMoCoSEE) incorporated the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property as a priority and called for reinforced action on capacity-building, knowledge sharing and awareness raising in the approved Regional Strategy for Cultural Cooperation (Ohrid Strategy). This was further reaffirmed by the declarations adopted by the CoMoCoSEE during its annual meetings in 2016 (Istanbul) and 2017 (Tirana).

In recent years, the protection of cultural heritage has emerged as a global issue that transcends the boundaries of the cultural sphere, becoming a development requirement, as well as a security imperative as recognized in March 2017 by the UN Security Council Resolution 2347. Briefing members after the text’s adoption, Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, stated “the destruction of cultural heritage is a war crime and tactic of war, and that defending that heritage is a security imperative”.  “Cultural heritage sites are symbols of unity, bearing witness to the dialogue of cultures that had always existed”, she said,  adding:  “Violent extremists know this, and that is why they seek to destroy it.”

Likewise, with these words “Cultural heritage protection is a key element for peace and sustainable development", the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Angelino Alfano, expressed great satisfaction with the adoption by the UNESCO General Conference of the addendum to the UNESCO Strategy for the “Reinforcement of UNESCO’s action for the protection of culture and the promotion of cultural pluralism in the event of armed conflict”, promoted by Italy.

Also addressing the Security Council was General Fabrizio Parrulli, Head of Italian Carabinieri Department for the Protection of Cultural Heritage.  He said they had investigated the trafficking of almost 800,000 pieces of art and 35,000 people, detaining over 1,000 people in the defense of cultural heritage. Highlighting national efforts, he stated “We have recovered thousands of objects and built legal cases that had resulted in high-profile repatriations of cultural property.  We have also helped others to recover their stolen property and provided training courses, while establishing bilateral liaisons with States on protecting cultural heritage.”

Within this framework and priorities, UNESCO and the Italian Carabinieri are organizing this new capacity-building workshop in Rome for the benefit of Montenegro and Serbia. In addition to raising awareness and developing professional capacities, special attention will be paid to the implementation of the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970) and UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects (1995).

With the precious cooperation of the Italian Carabinieri and the contribution of distinguished international resource persons, participants will acquire information and receive training on a variety of topics related to the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property, as well as on issues such as the restitution or return of cultural objects, preventive measures and risk mitigation, awareness raising, etc. Speakers and trainers include senior representatives from international organizations such as UNESCO, UNIDROIT, UNODC, WCO, as well as from the Carabinieri and from other Italian specialized services.

This workshop is organized thanks to the generous contribution of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation to the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe.

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To date, the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property has been ratified by 134 Member States of UNESCO, including many culture-rich countries as well as former hubs of illicit traffic, supporting UNESCO’s untiring efforts to foster international cooperation on this topic.


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