Customs authorities from MENA region exchange experiences and develop recommendations to counter antiquities trafficking

02 May 2017

Hammamet, Tunisia, 24-28 April 2017

In cooperation with the Embassy of France to Libya and with the support of the Tunisian Customs, the WCO organised the first regional Middle East and North Africa (MENA) workshop on ‘The role of Customs in security and development: the function of cultural heritage protection’ from 24 to 28 April in Hammamet, Tunisia. This workshop became the first practical step to fulfill the commitment laid out in the WCO Council Resolution on the role of Customs in prevention of illicit trafficking of cultural objects, adopted in July 2016, as well as to implement the United Nations Security Council Resolutions 2199/2015 and 2347/2017, whereas the latter Resolution emphasises a critical role the WCO plays in this domain of enforcement and empowers Customs authorities to act. The overall objective of this workshop was to analyse the situation in the region and identify ways to support Customs administrations in prevention of illicit trafficking of cultural objects.

The workshop received a great deal of media attention. More than 40 delegates, including the representatives of the Customs administrations from eleven countries in the region, such as Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Qatar, Sudan, Tunisia and Yemen; other international partners, such as the International Council of Museums (ICOM) and United Nations Security Council Monitoring Team; national governmental authorities as well as archeologists and representatives of museums and non-governmental organisations participated in the workshop. It was opened by Mr. Adel Ben Hassen, Director General of the Tunisian Customs, who emphasised the important role Customs administrations are playing in preventing illicit trafficking of cultural objects and provided with an insight on the work of the Tunisian Customs with other border agencies, particularly the Tunisian National Guard. Ms Mariya Polner of the WCO articulated the link between fragile borders, the overall security situation and illicit trafficking of cultural objects: the current situation in the MENA region contributed to the reasoning behind the WCO decision to dedicate its resources primarily to the countries that are most affected by the current crisis. Other keynote speakers included Mr. Mohamed Ben Chouikha, the Head of Cabinet, Finance Ministry of Tunisia; Ms. Noura Rezgui, a representative of the Anti-Corruption Agency and Mr. Faouzi Mahfoudh, Director General of the National Heritage Institute of Tunisia.

The five day workshop included a mix of lectures, an analysis of the Customs capacities on the national level, as well as discussions on Customs practices as well as available tools and instruments. The workshop also included a visit to Bardo museum and a round-table with the museum professionals to discuss the issues related to storage and handling of cultural objects. In the end of the workshop the participants developed a set of Recommendations for the Customs administrations in the MENA region. Special attention was dedicated to the Recommendation on training needs in this domain, which will be used as a guideline to develop a training package for the MENA region to be deployed by the WCO and its partner organisations in September 2017.

The workshop was closed by the Ambassador of France to Libya, Her Excellency Ms Brigitte Curmi, and Tunisian Customs Director General Mr. Adel Ben Hassen.