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WCO calls for increased border vigilance to protect Egypt’s cultural heritage

09 February 2011

WCO calls for increased border vigilance to protect Egypt’s cultural heritage

Brussels, 9 February 2011

Press Release

Secretary General of the WCO, Kunio Mikuriya, calls on Customs administrations worldwide to increase their vigilance at borders on cultural artefacts that may be smuggled or exported illegally from Egypt by criminals and other unscrupulous persons using the current unrest in the country as a cover.

“Protecting a nation’s cultural property from being illicitly trafficked across borders is one of the priorities for Customs administrations around the world,” said WCO Secretary General, Kunio Mikuriya. “I am appealing to the global Customs community to be extremely vigilant at borders as Egypt’s cultural heritage could be endangered,” Mikuriya added.

The WCO’s concerns are shared by UNESCO, the world’s international body for overseeing, protecting and promoting cultural heritage. Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s Director-General, recently called on all parties to protect Egyptian cultural heritage, a symbol of the country’s identity. She said both its monuments and its artefacts were part of humanity’s ancestral heritage.

Current turmoil in Egypt is seriously threatening and endangering the country's vast cultural heritage with the international media reporting episodes of pillage at the Cairo museum and other important archeological sites. These facts are a cause for deep concern since the risk of smuggling of valuable artefacts out of Egypt is extremely high at the moment.

Although the situation is still evolving in Egypt, it is nevertheless critical to prevent “treasure hunters” from looting cultural and historical sites of inestimable value. In this regard the WCO is ready to support its international partners in any initiative aimed at protecting Egypt’s cultural heritage which stands out as a testament to the past.

In 2005, the WCOand UNESCO jointly developed the WCO-UNESCO Model Export Certificate for Cultural Objects in order to harmonize the diversity of existing export certificates worldwide to facilitate Customs controls and make it possible to detect false documents.

This certificate implements the provisions of Article 6 of the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property of 1970 whereby UNESCO members are required “to introduce an appropriate certificate in which the exporting state would specify that the export of the cultural property in question is authorized”.

Each cultural object leavingEgypt should therefore be accompanied by a certificate attesting that the exportation was legal. In the absence of a certificate, the importation is to be considered as illicit and investigated accordingly.

An alert for Customs administrations will also be issued on the WCO’s secure Central Enforcement Network (CEN) website, the Organization's main tool for sharing enforcement-related information.

Click here to read UNESCO’s update on Egypt.