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

08 September 2011

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

Brussels, 8 September 2011

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 Libya 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 Secretary General Mikuriya. “I am appealing to the global Customs community, and especially to those countries neighbouring Libya, to be extremely vigilant at borders as Libya’s cultural heritage could be at risk,” Mikuriya added.

Current turmoil and political instability in Libya 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 Libya 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, recently called on all parties to protect Libyan cultural heritage and avoid any illicit traffic taking place that would deprive the Libyan people of their precious cultural heritage.

Irina Bokova also drew attention to the fact that looting, theft and the illicit trafficking of cultural property are manifestly in contravention of 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 Libya, the WCO is ready to support its international partners in any initiative aimed at protecting Libya’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.

This certificate implements the provisions of Article 6 of the 1970 UNESCO cultural property convention 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 leaving Libya 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.