BEIRUT, Lebanon – The seizure of stolen cultural artefacts from Iraq and Syria, preventing their sale on the international markets and returning these to their countries of origin were high on the agenda of a meeting organized by INTERPOL at the UNESCO office in Beirut.
Held with the support of the Norwegian Embassy, the aim of the two-day (14 and 15 December) conference was to assess the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2199/2015 for the protection of cultural heritage in the Middle East, one year after its adoption.
Unlike previous UN Security Council resolutions on the matter, this resolution establishes a direct link between traffic of cultural goods in the region and the funding of terrorism. The resolution explicitly prevents trade with the Islamic State and other extremist entities and is binding under Chapter VII of the UN charter, which provides the framework for the Security Council to take enforcement action.
The purpose of the meeting was to share knowledge and expertise among the different organizations working together to support Iraq and Syria in regaining control of their cultural heritage.
It also provided an opportunity to grasp the full picture of illicit trafficking of cultural artefacts today from the testimonies of experts and officials from national directorates of archaeology in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, customs and police agencies, legal entities and international organizations.
Representatives from the World Customs Organization, UNIDROIT, Blue Shield International, the Digital Heritage Lab of the University Cyprus, as well as experts from Bulgaria, France, Iraq, Italy, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Romania, Spain and Syria, highlighted ways to increase cooperation among national actors involved in the seizure and restitution of stolen cultural artefacts.
The conference highlighted the need for more information in order to analyse the tendencies of smuggling and its routes, and for all information available at the national level of each concerned country should be put together to see the whole picture. In this respect, one of the main challenges facing the implementation of the UN Security Council resolutions is the lack of documentation on seized artefacts, an essential element for the identification and restitution of cultural artefacts.
Conference delegates agreed on the importance of strengthening the legal framework for the seizure and restitution of cultural artefacts, as well as meeting effectively the demands of Syria and Iraq for restitution. Other recommendations included increased cooperation among national police and customs agencies.