Five senior staff members from the Djibouti Ministry of Muslim Affairs, Culture and Waqf Assets joined ten staff members from the Yemeni Ministry of Culture and associated entities to participate in a capacity building workshop on “Fighting illicit trafficking of cultural heritage property in Yemen and Djibouti”, which was held from 26 to 28 November 2019 in Djibouti.
The workshop, which was led in English and Arabic, was organized by the UNESCO Office in Doha in collaboration with the UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa and key partners of the UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. The three day workshop included presentations by international experts from: the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT), the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), the International Council of Museums (ICOM), and the Smithsonian Institution. It aimed to equip key stakeholders in both countries with the knowledge of international frameworks and other available resources to fight against illicit trafficking of cultural objects. The workshop participants also prepared guidelines for the establishment of a specialized unit within their respective Ministries on preventing the illicit trafficking of cultural objects.
The workshop highlighted the implementation procedures, tools and resources of the 1970 Convention, which was adopted by UNESCO as a means to combat the looting of archaeological sites and illicit trafficking of museum collections around the world, and works hand-in-hand with the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects to offer strong legal protection against illicit trafficking of cultural property. Both countries are recent State Parties to the 1970 Convention, which Djibouti ratified in April 2018 and Yemen ratified in June 2019. They are both yet to ratify the 1995 Convention, which focuses more on the role of private international law in the restitution of stolen or illegally exported cultural objects, and allows restitution claims to be processed directly through national courts.
In recent years, the increased risk of illicit trafficking of cultural artifacts brought about by war and conflict, combined with the social-economic growth of the Africa and Arab States regions and the rapid expansion of the international art market, in particular through internet, has created a fertile environment for the illegal trafficking of cultural artifacts originating from countries that do not have the necessary measures in place.
“I am pleased that our Regional Office was able to closely collaborate with our colleagues in the UNESCO Doha Office to offer Yemeni authorities access to this important training, which could not have taken place in their home country due to the ongoing conflict there,” said Ms. Ann Therese Ndong-Jatta, Director of the UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa. “I am also confident that this workshop created a new network between Yemeni and Djibouti authorities, who have joined forces to fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property,” she added.
As a follow-up to the Djibouti workshop, the UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa is planning to organize the first East African Regional Training on the Prevention of Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Heritage (PITCH) in collaboration with the World Customs Organization (WCO) in mid-2020.