Main stakeholders in Asia-Pacific join UNESCO to celebrate 50th anniversary of 1970 Convention and strengthen the fight against illicit trafficking.
In order to deepen dialogue with stakeholders and strengthen joint efforts against illicit trafficking of cultural property in Asia-Pacific, UNESCO convened over 120 representatives of governments, cultural and research institutions, law enforcement, art market actors, professional associations and local communities for a regional conference in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property from 29-30 June 2021.
Co-hosted by UNESCO and Ministry of Culture of Thailand, the conference was opened by Mr. Shigeru Aoyagi, Director of UNESCO Bangkok, Mr. Lazare Eloundou-Assomo, Director of Culture and Emergencies at UNESCO and Mr. Itthiphol Kunplome, Minister of Culture, Thailand. Ms. Nomin Chinbat, Minister of Culture of Mongolia, Mr. Hoang Dao Cuong, Vice Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism of Viet Nam, Dr. Phoeurng Sackona, Minister of Culture and Fine Arts of Cambodia and Mr. Hu Bing, Deputy Administrator of National Cultural Heritage Administration of China attended the event and delivered remarks.
The conference discussed and analysed the situation with regards to illicit trafficking of cultural property in the Asia and Pacific region. This vast region is particularly affected by illicit trafficking due to unequal regional development, proliferating illegal trade (including online), clandestine excavations, both on land and underwater, natural disasters and climate change. The threats are especially high for the 15 Small Island Developing States which have not yet ratified the 1970 Convention.
Lack of awareness among the various actors concerned, limited capacities in terms of legislation and enforcement, and difficulties in information exchange are among key challenges that were identified by the participants in the region.
Based on the two-day discussions, the conference resulted in over 20 recommendations. These included among others, reinforced technical support for Member States’ ratification process; prioritization of capacity building for government officials, law enforcement, museum professionals and community leaders; raising awareness among the art market, general public and youth through communication campaigns and education programmes; establishing bilateral agreements to facilitate the return and/or restitution of cultural property; as well as supporting museums in preventive conservation and inventories of cultural property.
In his closing remarks, Mr. Ernesto Ottone R., Assistant Director-General for Culture of UNESCO, emphasised the importance of international cooperation and solidarity in the fight against illicit trafficking and highlighted the ratification of both the UNESCO 1970 Convention and the UNIDROIT 1995 Convention as the top priority for the Asia Pacific region. He stated that “This regional conference has shown that there is no one solution to the scourge of the illicit trafficking of cultural property. It will require the combined efforts of a wide range of actors, and a united response by all countries in the region, particularly through the ratification of the UNESCO 1970 Convention and the UNIDROIT Convention. UNESCO will continue to support you in this fight, which is a fight for the future of our cultural heritage.”
The outcome of the conference will be integrated into the Organization’s next actions, including the Asia-Pacific regional study and international conference to be organized on 14 September, and contribute to guiding UNESCO’s global and regional strategies against illicit trafficking.
UNESCO’s key partners, the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT), the International Council of Museums (ICOM), the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), also participated in the conference.