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

Brussels, 19 March 2012

Press Release

Secretary General of the World Customs Organization (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 the Syrian Arab Republic by criminals and other unscrupulous persons using the current political situation in the country as a cover.

“The protection of national cultural property from being illicitly smuggled across borders is one of the priorities for Customs administrations around the world,” said the Secretary General. “I am appealing to the global Customs community, and especially to those countries neighbouring the Syrian Arab Republic, to be extremely vigilant at borders as Syria’s cultural heritage could be at risk,” he added.

Current turmoil, social unrest and political instability in Syria is threatening and endangering the country's vast cultural heritage. This situation is a cause for deep concern since the risk of smuggling valuable artefacts out of Syria is extremely high at the moment.

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, has called on all parties to protect Syrian cultural heritage and avoid any illicit traffic taking place that would deprive the people of Syria of their precious heritage.

Looting, theft and the illicit trafficking of cultural property contravene the relevant provisions of UNESCO’s 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.

Although the situation is still evolving in Syria, the WCO is ready to support its international partners in any initiative aimed at protecting the country’s rich cultural heritage which stands out as a testament to the past and deserves every level of protection for future generations.

In 2005, the WCO and 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.

Each cultural object leaving the Syrian Arab Republic should be accompanied by a certificate attesting that the exportation is 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.