UNESCO and INTERPOL reinforce cooperation in fight against traffic in iraqi cultural goodsUNESCO and the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) yesterday reinforced their cooperation in the fight against the illicit traffic in Iraqi cultural properties by signing an amendment to their Cooperation Agreement of 1999.
Welcoming the signing of the amendment, UNESCO Director-General Koichďro Matsuura said: “Not only does this agreement represent a step forward in the protection of Iraqi cultural heritage, it also shows the willingness of the international community to make the fight against the illicit traffic in cultural goods a priority, recognizing that these goods must not be viewed as an ordinary commodity and that they are a fundamental element of peoples’ identities.”
The amendment, which lays the ground for establishing and compiling a database on cultural properties stolen in Iraq, for which the scientific responsibility has been entrusted to UNESCO, was signed on July 8 at Organization Headquarters by the Assistant Director-General for Culture, Mounir Bouchenaki, and the Executive Director of INTERPOL’s Police Services, Willy Deridder.
The project was decided following the meeting on Iraqi cultural heritage held at INTERPOL Headquarters in Lyon, France, on May 5-6, 2003. It will give customs officials, police and other players in the international art market regularly updated information on cultural property stolen in Iraq.
This inventory, based on information supplied by UNESCO - which will provide scientific expertise alongside other national and international organizations -, will be distributed in a CD-Rom on stolen objects throughout the world that INTERPOL has produced and updated every two months since 2001. It is available in French, English and Spanish and it will soon also be accessible through the Internet.
In March 2003, UNESCO asked INTERPOL to step up its efforts in the fight against the illicit traffic in Iraqi cultural properties. An INTERPOL representative also joined the second UNESCO mission of experts led by Mounir Bouchenaki, which went to Iraq from June 28 to July 5 to assess the state of Iraqi cultural heritage.
For several years, the two organizations have exchanged information on stolen objects which reappear on the international art market. INTERPOL also takes part in meetings of the Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation, which take place every two years. The two organizations also cooperate to train specialists in the fight against the illicit traffic in cultural goods in a large number of countries, among other activities.
UNESCO’s work in the fight against the illicit traffic in cultural goods is part of the UNESCO 1970 Convention. One hundred States, including Iraq and several key countries in the international art market, have signed this Convention of the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.1
In Paragraph 7 of Resolution 1483 of May 22, 20032, the United Nations Security Council “decides that all Member States shall take appropriate steps to facilitate the safe return to Iraqi institutions of Iraqi cultural property and other items of archaeological, historical, cultural, rare scientific, and religious importance illegally removed from the Iraq National Museum, the National Library, and other locations in Iraq since the adoption of resolution 661 (1990) of 6 August 1990, including by establishing a prohibition on trade in or transfer of such items and items with respect to which reasonable suspicion exists that they have been illegally removed, and calls upon the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, Interpol, and other international organizations, as appropriate, to assist in the implementation of this paragraph.”