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ICOM joins chorus of voices against illicit trafficking at UNESCO event

ICOM joins chorus of voices against illicit trafficking at UNESCO event


On 30 March 2016 at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, a round table entitled The movement of cultural property in 2016 was held jointly with the Council of Voluntary Sales (CVV), the French auction regulatory authority, in the company of ICOM Director General Anne-Catherine Robert-Hauglustaine. Subtitled Regulation, international cooperation and diligence of professionals for cultural heritage protection, the event focused on the art market’s key role in fighting illicit traffic in cultural property. Gathering market stakeholders from auction houses and online platforms, museum representatives, cultural heritage experts, specialised intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations and Member States, discussions aimed to assess the current situation of the issue and tools for prevention, identify new challenges and improve international cooperative efforts targeting trafficking.

Following opening remarks by Francesco Bandarin, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture, and Catherine Chadelat, CVV President, four thematic panels involving speakers from the public and private sectors ensued. Anne-Catherine Robert-Hauglustaine spoke on behalf of ICOM at the first session, highlighting its 70 years of service to the global museum and heritage community in this anniversary year for the organisation. She noted that 2016 is also the 30th anniversary of the ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums, the text of reference setting out the values and principles shared by ICOM and the international museums community, which has been translated into 38 languages.

Anne-Catherine Robert-Hauglustaine emphasised the importance of ICOM Red Lists as recognised tools in the fight against illicit trafficking worldwide, presenting categories of objects in demand on the art and antiquities market and vulnerable to theft or looting. Over the years, they have enabled law enforcement agencies to seize thousands of objects. In recent months, ICOM has published an Emergency Red List of Libyan Cultural Objects at Risk in Arabic, English and French, and an updated version of its Emergency Red List of Iraqi Cultural Objects at Risk in Arabic, English, French and German. Red Lists for West Africa and Yemen are forthcoming, with continued support from the U.S. Department of State, and will be published in Arabic, English, French, German, Turkish and Greek.

The ICOM Director General also spoke of a further tool to be developed in partnership with INTERPOL and the World Customs Organization for the fight against illicit trafficking in cultural property: an image recognition application that will facilitate the identification of cultural objects. Furthermore, a research project is being jointly undertaken with the International Committee of the Blue Shield and ICOMOS, focused on heritage in danger in situations of armed conflict and occupation. Results will be presented at UNESCO during the December 2017 session on the 1954 Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.

Anne-Catherine Robert-Hauglustaine concluded by noting that ICOM’s ongoing efforts in the field of illicit trafficking, as well as for the protection of heritage and the promotion and enhancement of the museum sector overall, are driven by the independence, integrity and professionalism of the organisation and its 35,000+-strong global network.

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