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Ladies and gentlemen,
I am pleased to join you today for the launch of our new pilot project on co-action against trafficking in cultural heritage, “CATCH”.
I would like to thank INTERPOL and UNESCO, as well as the Permanent Representatives of France, Greece, and Italy and the EU for joining us today and making this initiative possible.
Growing up in Egypt, a cradle of civilization, I have learned that cultural heritage plays a central role in shaping one’s identity. It reflects who we are, where we have been, and where we hope to be.
Then, in my work today, I have learned that protecting cultural heritage is key for our aspirations to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which recognizes culture as a fundamental contributor to peaceful, prosperous and inclusive societies.
Yet, around the world today, cultural property is under threat and continues to be unlawfully excavated, stolen and illegally trafficked across borders and regions.
Criminal networks are exploiting gaps in justice systems to steal and traffic artefacts, blurring the line between legitimate markets and illegally acquired goods.
They are increasingly using the internet and modern technology to locate and sell objects online and on the dark web.
Cultural heritage is particularly vulnerable in areas affected by conflict, political instability and corruption, which weaken governments’ capabilities to protect cultural sites.
There have also been cases of armed non-state actors and terrorist groups engaging in cultural property trafficking to fund their activities, prolonging conflicts and fuelling other forms of organized crime, while damaging priceless markers of history. Coming from the Middle East, I have witnessed this first hand.
We need new, innovative approaches that address all aspects of this transnational organized crime.
This requires a coordinated response from us all, including through enhanced intelligence collection and sharing, to better understand the full scope of this illegal trade and the actors involved, and to facilitate operational planning at a global level.
We have important international legal instruments to guide us in these efforts.
The UN Convention against Transnational Crime and the International Guidelines on Criminal Justice Responses to Trafficking in Cultural Property are vital tools to complement the 1970 UNESCO convention and other relevant instruments.
They complete the picture, by providing for criminal accountability, international legal cooperation, and addressing illicit returns, and they can still be used more widely and effectively against cultural property trafficking.
This Commission itself has a long history of addressing the problem of trafficking in cultural property over the past 20 years.
The Security Council and General Assembly have also issued important resolutions calling for the protection of cultural heritage, including through stronger cooperation between Member States, UN entities, the private sector, and other stakeholders.
With these tools at our disposal, we must bolster our efforts by creating and reinforcing partnerships, and working together to strengthen detection, investigation, and prosecution of the criminal groups behind these nefarious activities.
The CATCH project will leverage the mandates of UNESCO, INTERPOL and UNODC to develop a complementary and coordinated response to the trafficking of cultural property in the Mediterranean
This is a region blessed with nearly endless cultural riches, home to beautiful and priceless artefacts that help us trace back pivotal chapters in history.
From the secrets of the Pharaohs to the footprints of the Roman Empire to the legacy of Ancient Greek thinking and beyond, cultural property in the Mediterranean tells stories of milestones on the path to modern human civilization.
Consequently, the Mediterranean corridor is a prime transit route for cultural property trafficking.
That is why, as a first stage, we are going to pilot the CATCH project in a number of countries in the Mediterranean.
To this end, our support to Member States will come from across UNODC.
From our Border Management Branch, which can provide technical assistance to help disrupt criminal networks, increase seizures along supply chains, and conduct successful investigations and prosecutions.
From our Research and Analysis Branch, which can provide a better picture of criminal business models through data collection and trend analysis.
And from our Organized Crime and Illicit Trafficking Branch, which can support Member States in implementing the UNTOC, including by strengthening criminal justice frameworks needed to fight this transnational organized crime.
This will be a comprehensive effort, drawing on our vast expertise and resources, and working closely with INTERPOL and UNESCO to ensure our efforts complement one another in a spirit of partnership and as called for by Member States.
It will also – I hope – involve museums, auction houses, civil society and the private sector in raising awareness and promoting education.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Over the years, Member States have committed themselves to prevent and fight trafficking in cultural property more effectively.
This is an opportunity to live up to those commitments by putting words into action.
We cannot allow criminal networks to plunder our cultural heritage any longer.
I call on our partners here today to support the CATCH pilot project, to ensure that it is adequately resourced and able to meet its goals, and that it can be a stepping stone to expand this work to other countries in the region and beyond.
I hope that today will mark the start of an important step in our fight to preserve the cultural heritage and history of our planet, as a reminder of where we have come from and to guide future generations.