Advocating the role of Customs at the first Conference of Ministers of Culture of the Euro-Mediterranean region

21 June 2022

On 16 and 17 June, 2022, the first Conference of the Ministers of Culture of the Euro-Mediterranean region took place in Naples, Italy. Initiated by the Italian Ministry of Culture as a regional initiative stemming from the G20 that had taken place in Rome in July 2021, this Conference gathered more than 40 Ministerial delegations from all over the Mediterranean and neighbouring countries.

The Conference was opened by Dario Franceschini, Minister of Culture of Italy, and Luigi di Maio, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Italy. The representatives of the European Union, including Stefano Sannino, Secretary General of the European External Action Service, Roberta Metsola, President of the European Parliament, and Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, addressed the plenary along with the representatives of the Ministerial delegations, International Organizations (IOs) and Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs),  such as the World Customs Organization (WCO), UNESCO, Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean (PAM), International Council of Museums (ICOM), International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), ALIPH (l ’Alliance international pour la protection du patrimoine dans les zones de conflit), and Antiquities Coalition.

During the plenary session on “Culture as an asset for peace and security” the WCO proposed three major areas of engagement: i) to focus the attention of the policy-makers on destruction and illicit trafficking of cultural heritage that would result in a whole-of-government approach and increased funding for this area of enforcement; ii) to act within the existing area of competence with the examples given on the Customs’ role and WCO in protecting cultural heritage and Customs-Police operational cooperation in coordination with INTERPOL; and iii) to rebuild and recover cultural heritage in the post-crisis situation, whereby the competent authorities should be ready to repair the damage, recover the looted and stolen property and return it to the country of origin.

The Ministerial Conference culminated in the unanimous adoption of the Naples Declaration, which enshrines the main principles developed during the Conference and addresses the three following major topics, namely, culture as an asset for peace and security, culture as an enabler for sustainable development and green transition, and culture and a world in transition. In the field of countering illicit trafficking in cultural property, the Declaration stresses the importance of cross-border cooperation between the judicial, Customs, Police and cultural administrations. The Declaration also highlights the security dimension of looting and theft as a way of accessing funding for criminal and terrorist organizations through fraudulent resale or money laundering.

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