UNESCO cautions against false certificates claiming to authorize export of African cultural artefacts
UNESCO is urging utmost vigilance after receiving numerous reports of fraud and illicit trafficking in African cultural property under the cover of false documents claiming that UNESCO is authorizing such trade and even certifying the monetary value of collections.
These false documents fraudulently bear UNESCO’s name and logo, sometimes using fake business cards and usurping the names of officials of the Organization. The majority of the victims of this fraud reside in France, many have links to French-speaking African countries and believe they are familiar with local practices. The cumulative damage is estimated at more than one million euros.
UNESCO is considering legal action to end these frauds and misrepresentations. The Organization calls on all who receive such offers to exercise the utmost vigilance and ensure careful verification before acting on them. It also calls on the recipients to report these offers to the appropriate judicial authorities.
According to UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, “the illicit traffic in cultural properties is a lucrative global scourge in most cases connected to other forms of organized crime, including the funding of terrorism. It affects all parts of the world, and Africa in particular. Such wrongdoing harms culture,” she concluded.
UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Culture, Ernesto Ottone Ramirez, recalls that “illicit trafficking in cultural property is a worldwide, lucrative scourge linked to other forms of organized crime, including the financing of terrorism. Not only is it rife in Africa, whose cultural heritage has long been the victim of looting and destruction, but it has exploded more recently in the Middle East in connection with the conflicts in Iraq and Syria. It is also growing on the internet, where tracing origins and intermediaries is difficult.”
This year, UNESCO is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Convention adopted in 1970 to combat the illicit traffic in cultural property. UNESCO’s role is to facilitate cooperation between States, ensure information sharing and the implementation of measures to be taken to prohibit and prevent the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property. Over the past five years, UNESCO has helped several dozen countries to incorporate into their national laws the provisions for the prevention of illicit trafficking in cultural property contained in the 1970 Convention, and encouraged the restitution of objects illegally removed from their territory.
UNESCO has organized more than 80 training and capacity-building sessions for representatives of States and their relevant ministries, police and customs services, and museum professionals, in partnership with its partners the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), the World Customs Organization, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) and the UNIDROIT Convention. The Organization provides States with essential knowledge on legal standards, reference data on trafficking, a database of national laws, as well as practical tools. UNESCO does not issue certificates or authorizations for the commercialization of cultural property.