UNESCO supports training to counter antiquities trafficking in the Mashreq
Within the framework of the UNESCO 1970 Convention addressing the illicit trafficking of cultural property, and emphasising the particular needs of source countries impacted by conflict, UNESCO, in collaboration with the Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA), organised in Beirut, Lebanon a capacity-building activity entitled "Countering Antiquities Trafficking in the Mashreq: A Training Program for Specialists Working to Deter Cultural Property Theft and the Illicit Trafficking of Antiquities.” The training took place from 16 to 20 April 2018 and was funded through UNESCO's Heritage Emergency Fund. It focused on improving internal, cross-border, and sub-regional cooperation in and between member countries’ heritage professionals.
Aimed at developing a more collaborative approach to address the illicit flows of cultural property and to strengthen professional capabilities and means of control in key source and transit countries, the training provided technical assistance to 31 multidisciplinary trainees from five beneficiary countries in the Mashreq region: Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey. These countries suffer from the proliferation of illicit trafficking of cultural property and have seen their border transit points capitalised on by traffickers, who attempt to move plundered heritage to lucrative art market countries in Europe and elsewhere.
Recognising the indispensable role of international cooperation in crime prevention and criminal justice responses to counter the trafficking, as set out in the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2347 (2017) and 2199 (2015), the training activities brought together national and international experts from UNESCO, ARCA, INTERPOL, UNIDROIT, UNODC, and ICOM-Lebanon. They stressed the importance of improving international, cross-border and regional cooperation among heritage personnel, customs, law enforcement, intergovernmental and nongovernmental organisations. By providing a platform for stakeholders in source countries to identify existing gaps in their knowledge, practice, and legislative and judicial systems, the training helped to strengthen preventive measures.
Participants were exposed to topics focusing on risk assessment, heritage protection, following and combating the illicit trade and a review of the legal instruments. Best practices as well as creative alternatives in cultural property disputes and restitution were also discussed.
At the conclusion, recommendations were put forward to strengthen cooperation in the future between the trainees and participating organisations.