Regional Workshop for Mekong River Countries on Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Properties in Siem Reap on 24-26 January 2022

The Cambodian Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts has organized a regional workshop in Siem Reap from 24 to 26 January 2022, entitled “Preventive Measures Against Destruction and Encroachment on Heritage Sites, and Against Theft, Looting, and Illicit Trafficking of Culturally Significant Properties, Phase 2”. Received from the financial support from the Mekong-Lancang Cooperation Special Fund 2020, the workshop is one of the follow-up actions of the first Cambodian National Consultation Workshop on “Challenges and Solutions related to Traffic, Excavation and Trafficking in Artifacts” in November 2018. Due to the prevailing sanitary situation and following the country’s standard operating procedures, the workshop was organized in a hybrid style, physically and online.

Aimed at promoting cooperation among the countries in the regions on the prevention of illicit import and export of cultural properties, the workshop invited representatives of the Mekong-Lancang countries such as Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, as well as China. UNESCO also joined it.

During the opening ceremony, Excellency Dr Phoueurng Sackona, the Minister of Culture and Fine Arts stressed the importance of joint efforts for the protection of cultural heritage in the region which has functioned to share not only goods and people but also ideas, beliefs, knowledge and culture. She also outlined that “Artefacts from all of our countries offer us clues to understand the complex historical and cultural processes that have given this region its unique place in the world”. She further requested for a joint collaboration by stating that “We now must work hand-in-hand for the respect of our ancestors to secure thought and practice that our heritage will be available for our children. Future generations have a right to understand, study and admire their heritage. Illicit trafficking, looting, import-export of cultural property is a threat to us all, and we have to fight it together”.

During the opening ceremony, the UNESCO representative stated that 95 % per cent of museums and 89 per cent of the World Heritage sites were closed in the world throughout the last years, which triggered off risks of looting and destruction of cultural properties. Given this situation, he called for promoting raising awareness and heritage education among the general public against the illicit excavation, purchase and trade of cultural objects, of which each country’s citizens should be aware the significance of heritage to their societies and their own lives, as well as the responsibility to protect them.

The participating countries also shared the encountered challenges and mitigation measures to cope with the protection of the shared heritage, while committing themselves to implement the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import and Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.