Theft, looting and illicit trafficking of cultural property is a crime. It deprives people of their history and culture, it weakens social cohesion in the long term. It fuels organized crime and contributes to the financing of terrorism. Since its founding, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has been developing benchmark legal instrument. The landmark 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property urges States Parties to take measures to prohibit and prevent the illicit trafficking of cultural property. It provides a common framework for the States Parties on the measures to be taken to prohibit and prevent the import, export and transfer of cultural property.
Since the problem of illegal trafficking of cultural property is faced by developing countries the most, the Non-Aligned Movement has paid heed to such concerns and called for the protection of cultural property.
At the 18th NAM Summit in Baku in 2019, NAM leaders raised concern at the involvement of organized criminal groups, as well as the substantial increase in the volume, rate of transnational occurrence and range of criminal offences related to trafficking in precious metals, stones and other minerals in some parts of the world, and the potential use of their illicit trafficking as a source of funding for organized crime, other relevant criminal activities and terrorism. NAM also stresses the potential role that the Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in case of Illicit Appropriation (ICPRCP) can play. The Committee is made up of 21 Member States elected for a period of four years by the General Conference of UNESCO, half of these members being renewed every two years at the time of elections held at the General Conference.
NAM reiterated this position on protection of cultural property at the Sixth Meeting of States Parties to the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property held on May 25 and May 26, 2021. The Permanent Delegate of Azerbaijan to UNESCO, Ambassador Elman Abdullayev delivered a declaration on behalf of NAM at the Sixth Meeting of States Parties to the 1970 Convention.
In the declaration, Members of NAM expressed their concern over the problem of illicit trafficking of cultural property, which not only affects countries of origin but also disrupts the safeguarding of heritage everywhere. In this regard, NAM stressed the importance of the effective implementation of relevant international treaties, in particular the 1970 Convention and the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects, in which States committed to a uniform treatment for restitution of stolen or illegally exported cultural objects and allowed restitution claims to be processed directly through national courts.
In the declaration at the Sixth Meeting, NAM underlined the importance of national, regional and international initiatives for the protection of cultural property, in particular, the work of UNESCO and the 1970 Convention, and stressed the importance of fostering international law enforcement cooperation to combat trafficking in cultural property and in particular the need to exchange information and experiences in order to operate in a more effective way.
NAM also underlined the role of UNESCO in sensitizing public about the seriousness of the problem, bringing together all stakeholders in combatting the illicit trafficking of cultural property and assisting its Member States in putting in place sustainable measures to tackle this global problem. “Considering that the protection of cultural heritage can be effective only if organized both nationally and internationally among States working in close co-operation”, as indicated under the preamble of the 1970 Convention, the NAM invited all Members of UNESCO to engage into dialogue, in good faith, on all matters related to return and restitution cultural property.
By Dr. Ankit Srivastava
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