UNESCO and partners celebrate 50th anniversary of the 1970 Convention against illicit trafficking in cultural property with major event in Africa

On 26 and 27 April 2021, UNESCO, together with partners, is convening an African regional conference to mark the 50th anniversary of the UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. The two-day on-line event will focus on the tools and best practices to fight against illicit trafficking in cultural property and to support the return and restitution of cultural property, which particularly affect the Africa Region.


Challenges concerning trafficking in cultural property are numerous, including large-scale looting exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the protection of archaeological sites in conflict zones, and rising illegal online sales.

This international conference will mobilize representatives of: Ministries for Culture and other relevant ministries from the Africa region; African Union Commission; African Regional Economic Communities; UNESCO Partners such as: the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT), African Heritage School (EPA), , International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM), International Council of Museums ICOM, the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), World Customs Organization (WCO); museum professionals, researchers and academics; police, customs and border patrol agents; UNESCO National Commissions and Permanent Delegations; as well as community representatives and the general public to address these issues.


Participants will consider the advances made since the UNESCO 1970 Convention was adopted 50 years ago, examine how to tackle the ongoing challenges and strengthen cooperation thereon, and identify and address the specific needs and priorities for Africa today. Moreover, the conference will make a significant contribution to the African Union 2021 Year of “Culture, Arts and Heritage, Levers for building the Africa we want”

“UNESCO stands shoulder to shoulder with African countries to combat illicit trafficking of cultural property This crime deprives people of their history, hinders the education of future generations and prevents the advancement of archaeological science” said Ernesto Ottone R. UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture.”The 1970 Convention is crucial for Africa in this fight and we need all countries on board to implement it and strengthen international cooperation.”


The conference will be opened on 26 April at 3pm (EAT) by Mr. Ernesto Ottone R., alongside the Commissioner for Social Affairs at the African Union Commission H.E. Ms. Amira Elfadil. The keynote address will be jointly presented by Mr. Baba Keita (Mali) and Prof. George Abungu (Kenya).

The first day will include a high-level panel with testimonials from Ministers of Culture, representatives of African Union and Regional Economic Communities, technical experts, and local communities, in order to share experiences, challenges, best practices and ongoing efforts to strengthen the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property in the Africa region.


The second day will feature recommendations, resources from partners, as well as thematic discussions on: Preventive measures in the framework of the 1970 Convention and focus on interregional and international cooperation; return and restitution of cultural objects and international cooperation; and the role of museums.


The event will also bring to light some of the achievements in the Africa region for the 1970 Convention, for instance, the ECOWAS 2019-2023 Action Plan for the return of African cultural property to their countries of origin, as well as the Standard Operating Procedures adopted by SADC Chiefs of Police and Services together with the INTERPOL Regional Bureau for Southern Africa to guide them in the fight against illicit trafficking of stolen works of art and other cultural property in Southern Africa.


The 1970 Convention, the first instrument of international law for the protection of cultural property in peacetime, has been ratified by 141 States. In the Africa region, (31) countries (Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comores, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritius, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, Zambia and Zimbabwe) have ratified the UNESCO 1970 Convention; and (9) countries have ratified the complementary 1995 UNIDROIT Convention (Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, Ghana, Nigeria, and South Africa), and (3) countries have signed but not yet ratified (Senegal, Guinea, and Zambia).


UNESCO supports its Member States by providing technical expertise, helping improve national legislation, promoting cooperation between parties to the Convention, as well as training cultural and customs professionals.

This online conference will include interpretation in English, French and Portuguese.


Comments are closed.