Cultural property is the manifestation and expression of the cultural heritage of a group of people or a society. It is an expression of the ways of living developed by a community and passed on from generation to generation, including the customs of a people, their practices, places, objects, artistic endeavours and values. The protection of cultural property during times of armed conflict or occupation is of great importance, because such property reflects the life, history and identity of communities; its preservation helps to rebuild communities, re-establish identities, and link people’s past with their present and future.
Non-Aligned Movement has expressed concerns over the loss, destruction and removal of the cultural property and the increased involvement of organized criminal groups in trafficking in looted, stolen or smuggled cultural property. The Movement has underlined the importance of the protection of cultural property and has underlined the importance of national, regional and international initiatives undertaken for these objectives.
NAM attaches utmost significance to the Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict was adopted at The Hague (Netherlands) in 1954. It is the first international treaty with a world-wide vocation focusing exclusively on the protection of cultural heritage in the event of armed conflict. It covers immovable and movable cultural heritage, including monuments of architecture, art or history, archaeological sites, works of art, manuscripts, books and other objects of artistic, historical or archaeological interest, as well as scientific collections of all kinds regardless of their origin or ownership. The guiding principles of the Convention and the motivation for its conclusion, dissemination and respect are summarised in the preamble, which states that any damage to cultural property, irrespective of the people it belongs to, is a damage to the cultural heritage of all humanity, because every people contributes to the world’s culture.
NAM also attaches a great degree of significance to the work of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and its Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation, 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 has also welcomed the adoption of the International Guidelines for Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice with respect to Trafficking in Cultural Property. The Guidelines call upon the states for establishing and developing inventories or databases, as appropriate, of cultural property for the purpose of protection against its trafficking.
The absence of registration of cultural property in such inventories shall by no means exclude it from protection against trafficking and related offences. Further, States should consider, where possible under their national legislation, the relevant cultural property as registered in the official inventory of a State that has enacted laws on national or State ownership, provided that the owner State has issued a public formal statement to that effect. The guidelines further call on States for (a) Introducing or improving statistics on import and export of cultural property; (b) Introducing or improving statistics, where practical, on administrative and criminal offences against cultural property; (c) Establishing or improving national databases, as appropriate, on trafficking in cultural property and related offences and on trafficked, illicitly exported or imported, stolen, looted, illicitly excavated or illicitly traded or missing cultural property; (d) Introducing mechanisms to enable the reporting of suspicious dealings or sales on the Internet; (e) Contributing to international data collection on trafficking in cultural property and related offences through the United Nations Survey on Crime Trends and Operations of Criminal Justice Systems, conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and the INTERPOL database on stolen works of art and through other relevant organizations; (f) Contributing to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations In accordance with these guidelines NAM has called upon Member States to evaluate and review their legislation and legal principles, procedures, policies, programmes and practices related to crime prevention and criminal justice matters, in a manner consistent with their legal systems and in order to ensure their adequacy for preventing and combating trafficking in cultural property and related offences.