Islamic Republic of Iran

UNODC and UNESCO Team Up to Support Non-Governmental Organizations and the Iranian Government on Combating Trafficking in Cultural Property


9 September 2014 - About 80 representatives of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) active in the area of cultural property as well as experts of the Iranian Cultural Heritage, Handicraft and Tourism Organization (ICHHTO) and Governmental officials attended the meeting on the "Role of Civil Society in Counter-Trafficking in Cultural Property" on 9 September 2014, in Niyavaran Palace. This initiative was jointly organized by ICHHTO and UNODC Iran as part of their programmes to raise awareness and build capacity on combating trafficking in cultural property, art and antiquities in line with the United Nations Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) Convention.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the meeting, the Deputy for Planning and Investment of ICHHTO, Mr. Saeed Shirkavand, stated that the lack of a well-established mechanism to assist owners of cultural artifacts to sell or legally trade in their property is among the main causes of predominance of trafficking in cultural property. He added that the establishment of such a mechanism to encourage the public to come forward with their inherited or found artifacts is one of ICHHTO's main goals. He also highlighted the role NGOs could play in the society to raise public awareness on the threats of trafficking in cultural property to the identity and culture of the people, and stated that NGOs could undertake the role of public educators in this respect.

The UNODC Iran Representative, Mr. Leik Boonwaat, highlighted the fact that despite continued efforts by the international community, trafficking in cultural property, arts and antiquities has been increasingly growing both as a form of organized crime as well as an important source for laundering the proceeds of crime. He added that a coordinated and substantive approach at the national, regional and international levels is necessary to better tackle drug trafficking and criminal activities, such as trafficking in cultural property, which requires national coordination, improved national legislation in accordance with the United Nations instruments and standards, and building academic knowledge and capacities among decision-makers and practitioners, civil societies and NGOs. Mr. Boonwaat stated that in response to this growing threat, UNODC works to harness the potentials of UNTOC and, in line with this Convention, has piloted an innovative initiative with the objective of enhancing national capacity in countering trafficking in cultural property, art and antiquities under its Country Programme in Iran 2011-2014. He concluded by stating that with this meeting, we are hoping to make the discourse of protection of cultural property a public one; where public awareness is high, it will definitely be easier to monitor and preserve archaeological sites, monuments and cultural institutions, and this is where the role of NGOs and civil societies becomes important.

The Director and Representative of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Cluster Office in Tehran, Ms. Esther Kuisch-Laroche, highlighted the 1970 Convention, which was the first international legal instrument dedicated to combating trafficking in cultural property in times of peace. Referring to the situation in Iraq and Syria, Ms. Kuisch-Laroche stated that protecting heritage is inseparable from protecting populations, because heritage enshrines people's identities, and that is why the Director General of UNESCO has sent a circular letter to all countries, INTERPOL, the World Customs Organization, and the art market to urge for extreme vigilance and scrutiny for all objects coming from these states. Pointing to the increasing number of criminal activities and prevalence of trafficking in cultural property, she stated that most of the regulations already exist, but the challenge now is to ensure that they are better known to all, applied more vigorously, and effectively enforced. In this context, she highlighted the importance of prioritizing prevention and the important role that civil society can play. Ms. Kuisch-Laroche mentioned that experience has shown that the preparedness of local professionals and communities is the best guarantee to keep cultural heritage safe. She called for strengthening of national and local capacities and increased efforts to raise awareness at the community level.

During the working session meeting, the UNODC Iran National Programme Coordinator, Mr. Sefat Shemirani, described the nature of transnational organized crime and how it is linked to trafficking in cultural property. In his presentation, he referred to the growing activities of criminal organized groups which are threatening and challenging the social and economic development and security of societies around the world. He provided statistical information on the alarming rate of the proceeds of such illegal activities.

The three panels of the meeting covered a wide range of topics related to trafficking in cultural property, including the role of NGOs as the "watchman of historical sites" in protecting cultural property; the transnational organized crime dimension, including the importance of the fight against trafficking in cultural property and the UNODC mandate in this respect; and the role played by ICHHTO. Among the distinguished panelists were: the Head of International Legal Affairs at the Office of the President, Dr. Mohsen Mohebbi; Secretary of the History and Cultural Heritage Fraction of Parliament, Dr. Bozorgian; the Director General for Legal Affairs of ICHHTO, Mr. Omid Ghanami; the Director General for the Office of Community Affairs and NGOs, Dr. Ramezani; as well as the Head of Public Relations Office of ICHHTO, Mr. Arefnia. The meeting provided representatives of NGOs the opportunity to directly voice their concerns over the local situation of the cultural heritage of their provinces.

The Cultural Attaché at the Italian Embassy, Prof. Carlo Cereti, and Law Professor at Shahid Beheshti University, Dr. Janet Blake, attended as special guests of the meeting. Dr. Blake added her voice to the emphasis on the preventive role of NGOs. In this regard, while stressing the importance of education in countering trafficking in cultural property, she recommended that NGOs could be the "right hand" of the Government by providing them with consultancies and information on local areas.


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