UNESCO round table on the fight against illicit trafficking in cultural properties

UNESCO is organizing a round table debate to promote international cooperation in the fight against illicit trafficking in cultural properties in view of the unprecedented scale of pillaging of cultural sites and museums in the Middle East. The event will take place at UNESCO Headquarters on 30 March (Room II, 9 am to 6 pm).

Participants at the round table will include the main stakeholders of the international art market: auction houses, galleries and dealers, representatives of regulatory authorities, researchers, representatives of intergovernmental organizations, nongovernmental organizations and UNESCO Member States.

Organized with the Conseil des ventes volontaires, the public auction regulator of France, the round table will start with a general presentation by Professor Françoise Benhamou of Paris XIII University, an expert in cultural and digital economics. Samuel Andrew Hardy, an archaeologist, historian, criminologist, and expert in the illicit trafficking of antiquities, will then take stock of the situation today as regards the illegal trade in cultural goods.

The programme will focus on four themes: establishing the provenance of plundered cultural objects (10.30 to 11.30), role of transit States and market professionals in fighting illicit trafficking (11.30 am to 1.30pm), role of professionals and market regulators in the fight against illicit trafficking (2.30pm to 4pm), and challenges, solutions and prospects (4pm to 5.30pm).

Notable experts who will take part in the debates include: Qahtan Al Abeed, Director of Basrah Museum, Iraq, Corrado Catesi, Coordinator, Works of Art Unit, INTERPOL, Ali Ahmed Ali Farhan, Director General of Seized Artifacts Department, Egypt, Sonia Farsetti, Deputy President of the European Federation of Auctioneers, Cecilia Fletcher, Senior Director, Compliance and Business Integrity Counsel, Europe, Sotheby’s, Samuel Sidibé, Director of the National Museum of Mali and Chair of the Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in case of Illicit Appropriation, and Wolfgang Weber, Head of Global Regulatory Policy, for online auction platform eBay and Martin Wilson Christie’s Global Managing Director.


The fight against illicit trafficking in cultural goods is part of the mandate of UNESCO, which in 1970 adopted a Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.

Illicit trafficking is estimated to represent an annual value of $3.4 to $6.3 billion, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. In Europe, Italy’s carabinieri seized close to 800,000 stolen or illegally excavated cultural goods over the past four decades. The situation is particularly dire in countries affected by crisis. In August 2013, 1,089 artefacts were stolen from Egypt’s Malawi National Museum. The Egyptian authorities were able to retrieve 950 of these objects. There are reports of massive pillaging of archaeological sites and museums in Iraq and Syria.


Journalists wishing to cover the event are requested to contact Agnès Bardon of UNESCO’s Media Services for accreditation: +33 (0) 1 45 68 17 64, a.bardon(at)unesco.org


There will be live streaming of the debates: mms://stream.unesco.org/live/room_2_en.wmv