The three-day workshop on Ethics of Collections and fight against illicit traffic of cultural heritage was held in Abu Dhabi 2-4 April 2017, organized by UNESCO in partnership with Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority. This workshop reflects the recognition that museums, private collectors, art market stakeholders, such as auction houses, are crucial actors that need to be actively involved in the fight against illicit traffic.
The event was launched by HE Mohammed Al Mubarak, Chairman of Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority who commenting on the purpose of the workshop, remarking that “It is testament to the critical importance of the preservation of Cultural Heritage that UNESCO has organized this series of workshops to provide TCA Abu Dhabi, and key industry stakeholders from across the Region, with the reference tools and policy frameworks that can encourage an ethical art market and prevent illicit trafficking in public and private collections.”
The workshop brought together more than 40 participants from all six GCC countries, representing culture authorities, public and private museums, collectors, auction houses and international experts. The Director of the UNESCO Doha Office welcomed the enthusiastic participation of countries in the GCC and noted that “We all bear a shared responsibility to protect and preserve our heritage and in particular the heritage of countries that are currently at risk due to conflicts in the region. The illicit traffic of cultural objects results in the irreversible loss of a country’s heritage and people’s cultural identity”.
This workshop is one of UNESCO’s many capacity building initiatives in the region, focusing on the fight against illicit traffic in cultural property (for example Bahrain in 2010, Saudi Arabia in 2012, and Oman in 2014 and 2015). However, it is the first of its kind with an emphasis on the ethics of collections and its implications on the fight against illicit traffic. By engaging with professionals active in the private and public culture sector, this initiative was especially developed to increase the awareness around the ethical and legal standards regarding acquisition, collection and managing of cultural heritage as well as the consequences caused by trafficking of cultural objects. With the guidance of representatives of leading experts in the field from institutions such as UNESCO, UNIDROIT, INTERPOL, WCO-OMD, ICOM, the workshop focused on the normative instruments, the measures and mechanisms of their implementation as well as creating a better understanding around the concepts of ethical collecting and regulations of the art market.
Each of the five modules included in the workshop tackled a separate aspect of the illicit trade in cultural property, and addressed both the due diligence processes followed by museums as well as the ethical principals guiding the art-market. Experts presented the typology of most vulnerable artifacts from Syria, Iraq and Yemen, highlighting the extent of the threat presented to the heritage of these countries. Finally, an additional module was dedicated to the in-depth analysis of the legal framework of the UAE.
The three-day workshop created opportunities for rich discussions among representatives of diverse institutions sharing the concern of the destructive effects of illicit traffic in cultural property. These interactions created momentum and anticipation of future initiatives and collaborations, and as testified by one of the participants, the interest to take action, make sure that the laws in place guide action in preventing illicit trafficking, and finally raise awareness around the need to encourage an ethical art market.