UNESCO celebrates the 50th anniversary of the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property

The year 2020 marked 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 (hereafter referred to as the UNESCO 1970 Convention). In recognition of this anniversary, UNESCO, in close cooperation with partners, has organized a number of events including an international conference on “Cultural Heritage and Multilateralism” in Berlin in November 2020 and the launch of a global communication campaign worldwide: “The Real Price of Art” in October 2020. Regional conferences were also organized in Latin America and the Caribbean on the 1st and 8th of October 2020, in Africa on the 26th and 27th of April 2021 and in the Asia-Pacific​ on the 29th and 30th of June 2021.

Attended by 136 participants from 22 countries, the Asia-Pacific Regional Conference aimed to take stock of concrete achievements to date and to collectively debate and agree upon a set of priorities for the region in Asia and Pacific. The participants were from  the Governments of Thailand, Cambodia, China, Mongolia, Australia, Republic of Korea, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, India, Nepal,  Pakistan, Fiji, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, New Zealand, Vanuatu: senior officials of the national and local governments across various sectors such as culture, law enforcement, foreign affairs, trade, tourism, etc.; national and international institutions and organizations such as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the International Council of Museums (ICOM), Interpol; professionals, experts and representatives of the private sector and civil society including the Antiquities Coalition from the US, Singapore Heritage Society; and museums of the region (China, Indonesia, etc.).

The Asia-Pacific Regional Conference was divided into seven topics such as: “key challenges and good practices of fighting illicit trafficking of cultural property from sub-regional perspective”; “the challenges of ratification of the two Conventions and legislative convergence”; “capacity-building needs and improving cross-sectoral cooperation”; “enhancing international cooperation, bilateral agreements, joint actions and good practices of return and restitution”; “voices of communities in the fight against illicit trafficking”; “engaging the Art Market: online trade, responsible market, and professional ethics”; and the “role of cultural institutions and museums in fighting illicit trafficking of cultural property”.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Lazare Eloundou-Assomo, Director of Culture and Emergencies Entity, Secretary of the 1970 Convention stated: “your presence today is a significant affirmation of your commitment to the issues of illicit trafficking and return and restitution of cultural properties… many achievements have been made in the fight against illicit trafficking in the past five decades, both at global and Asia-Pacific Regional levels which enable us to build our dialogue today in a very strong foundation…”

Cambodia shares knowledge and best practices on the implementation of the 1970 Convention:

Cambodian experts including high officials from the Heritage Protection Police Department, Heritage Watch and the APSARA National Authority were invited to present on ”capacity-building, improvement of cross-sectoral cooperation” (panel 3) and the “voices of communities in the fight against illicit trafficking” (panel 5) along with speakers and panelists from the State Parties to the 1970 Convention in the Asia-Pacific such as Cambodia, Australia, Fiji, India, Iran and Nepal.

According to Mr. Lot Loeuy, Deputy Director of Heritage Protection Police Department, Ministry of Interior of the Kingdom of Cambodia, Cambodia needs more substantial trainings to raise further awareness to the value, techniques and duty to protect the Cultural Heritage of Cambodia. He explained: “I myself and our Police were trained by the Interpol Police and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in the recent training in Phnom Penh. I now plan to share the learned knowledge among the Police Force of the whole country, when the situation allows under the Covid-19.”

Mr. Im Sokrithy, the Director of the Department of Conservation of Monuments and Archaeology, APSARA, Cambodia, presented on the voices of communities in the fight against illicit trafficking in Cambodia. He stated: “… We bring together the private, public, non-governmental sectors in a national wide campaign, cooperation and collaboration against the trade of cultural property but we also promote education and training for the local communities…”

In addition, the Asia-Pacific regional conference saw the participation of H. E. Dr. Phoeurng Sackona, Minister of Culture and Fine Arts of Cambodia. In her closing remarks, she reflected significant achievements  in the implementation of the UNESCO 1970 Convention in Cambodia, especially the publications of “the one hundred Missing objects” in 1993, “The Red List” in 2009, and most importantly, the return of a number of important stolen cultural objects to the country. She stated: “… over the past three decades, the Kingdom of Cambodia, with the full support of UNESCO and other States Parties to the UNESCO 1970 Convention, has managed to retrieve many pieces through negotiation by using win-win solution with private collectors, owners and museums…”.

As a result of the conference,  participants collaboratively identified a list of challenges and priorities, and good practices and recommendations, to be compiled in a report to be presented at the International Conference “The fight against illicit trafficking in cultural property: Towards a reinforced global dialogue” in September 2021.

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