First Training on the Prevention of Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Heritage (PITCH) deployed in West and Central Africa

19 December 2018

In cooperation with the UNESCO Regional Office in Dakar and Senegal Customs, the WCO organized its first training on the “Prevention of Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Heritage” (PITCH) for countries in the West and Central Africa (WCA) region. Financed by the WCO Reserve Fund and the UNESCO Office in Dakar, this training forms part of a project aimed at shedding light on the linkages between insecurity and the illicit trafficking of cultural objects as well as providing frontline Customs officers with hands-on operational tools to prevent this type of offense. The first stage of the project, during which a regional gap analysis was undertaken and country needs identified, was conducted back in May 2018 in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

The PITCH training was organized at the premises of the UNESCO Regional Office in Dakar from 10 to 13 December 2018. It gathered more than 30 participants, including Customs officers from the 17 Customs administrations of the region, namely Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, The Gambia and Togo. Also present were representatives of the Senegalese Ministry of the Interior and the National Central Bureau of INTERPOL. The training was facilitated by experts from the WCO, French Customs, the US Homeland Security Investigations, INTERPOL, the National Museum of Mali, the African School of Heritage of Benin, and the Museum Theodore Monod/IFAN of Senegal.

The opening ceremony saw Mr Abdoul Aziz Guissé, Director of Heritage of the Senegalese Ministry of Culture, welcome and thank the WCO and UNESCO for bringing the importance of countering smuggling of cultural objects to the attention of frontline Customs and law enforcement officers. The Regional Advisor for Culture at UNESCO in Dakar, Ms Guiomar Alonso, said that “the protection of cultural heritage was not only a matter for culture professionals, but also a question that concerns many actors in the WCA region, and more particularly security and law enforcement agencies.” Ms Mariya Polner from the WCO pointed out that the WCA region is the first to receive PITCH training and underlined the fact that it had become imperative to mobilize resources and partners to protect cultural heritage in the region given the existing level of insecurity and the fragility of some of its borders. The Coordinator of Senegal Customs, Mr Moktar Doucouré, thanked the WCO and UNESCO for choosing the WCA region as the first one to benefit from PITCH training.

The intense four-day training programme mixed theory and practical exercises aimed at developing the operational techniques of Customs and police officers in the domain of enforcement. Special attention was paid to the need to establish inter-agency cooperation mechanisms, a problem area also identified as one of the key takeaways of this training. In addition, participants visited the IFAN museum where they were given a lecture on the region’s cultural heritage by the curator of the museum. The access to the museum reserves was also granted to the participants with the objective to learn about the conservation techniques for different cultural objects.

The WCO and UNESCO will continue working together in training frontline Customs officers based on the methodology and practices contained in the WCO PITCH Training Handbook.

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