Kabul 5th March 2014. UNESCO, in cooperation with the Afghan National Customs Academy (ANCA) and The Border Management Task Force, recently provided training to 39 customs officers from across 34 provinces. The ANC will continue to run the six-week training courses until 2015 with 150-200 officers taking part each year
The training directly reflects Afghanistan’s determination to comply with international law: the country ratified UNESCO’s Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970) and the UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Items (1995). However, Afghanistan continues to face enormous challenges in protecting cultural heritage from being stolen and illegally removed from the country. In order to stop the illegal trafficking of cultural items, UNESCO, together with the Ministry of Information and Culture (MoIC), developed the new training module on Historical Artefacts Detection and Identification, funded by the Government of Italy, one of UNESCO’s main partners in the field of culture. The training fits within the current educational curriculum of the ANCA, and draws upon the extensive experience and knowledge of the staff at UNESCO. The training module provides customs officers with an outline of international heritage, international conventions on the prevention of the illicit trafficking of antiquities, and the Afghan Law on the Protection of Historical and Cultural Properties (2004). The course also offers more practical assistance to customs officers in the identification of different types of artefacts they may come across, methods for preventing trafficking, as well as providing background knowledge on Afghanistan’s cultural heritage. Customs officers also visited the National Museum and learned about the many artefacts that have been looted from the museum during previous decades of political upheaval and conflict. The Director of the National Museum and his team have secured the return of some of the items with international cooperation. This includes over 840 items confiscated by UK border officials and returned to Afghanistan in August 2012, as well as an impressive Bodhisattva sculpture. The officers were also given a short lecture by Dr. Omara Kham Masoudi, Director of the National Museum of Afghanistan, on the history of the museum, the nature and breadth of the collections and the importance of the Afghan Customs Department in preventing the illicit trafficking of Afghan cultural property both nationally and internationally. Omar Akbar, a customs officer based in Hairatan on the busy northern border with Uzbekistan said: ’’ I think the historic artefacts part of the training at the Academy (ANCA) has been very interesting and I have learnt a lot about my country’s history and archaeology. I have never seen items like these before and I think this training will be very useful when we leave after graduating, and go back to our jobs with new knowledge about preventing antiquities leaving the country, especially an area rich in history where I work, near Mazar- Sharif and Balkh. I am proud to be able to play an important role in protecting the history of Afghanistan.’’ The specialist training and professional development of a new generation of customs officers will hopefully stop the recent trend of illicit trafficking of antiquities out of Afghanistan to international art markets and private collectors. As part of the travelling ‘Bactrian Gold Exhibition’, currently about to open at the New South Wales Art Gallery in Sydney, UNESCO and the National Museum of Afghanistan are also seeking to further raise international awareness on the plight of Afghanistan’s plundered cultural heritage, both past and present.