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The WCO rolls out the first practical training for Customs officers on the protection of cultural heritage

26 septiembre 2017

Beirut, Lebanon, 18-21 September 2017

The World Customs Organization (WCO), in cooperation with the UNESCO Regional Office in Beirut, the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs and with the support of Lebanese Customs organized the first WCO Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Train-the-Trainer Session for Customs officers on the prevention of illicit trafficking of cultural objects.

This practical hands-on training, which was held from 18 to 21 September 2017 at the UNESCO Beirut Office, was a highly successful gathering of over 40 participants including Customs officers from thirteen countries in the region, namely Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria and Tunisia. The training was delivered by trainers from different institutions, including INTERPOL, Customs and law enforcement agencies, Ministries of Culture, and the Lebanese Directorate General of Antiquities and academia. This was the first opportunity for the deployment and piloting of the training curriculum for Customs officers which is being currently developed by the WCO.

This Train-the-Trainer Session comes as a tangible step towards the implementation of the WCO Resolution on the Role of Customs in Preventing Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Objects adopted by the Council in July 2016 which reaffirms the commitment of the international Customs community to deploy actions to grave threats posed by this form of illicit trade. It also serves as a follow-up of the first WCO MENA workshop on ‘The role of Customs in security and development: the function of cultural heritage protection’, organized by the WCO in Hammamet, Tunisia, in the end of April 2017, thus addressing some of the action points underlined in the Hammamet Recommendations.

In his welcome remarks, Mr. Joe Kreidi, UNESCO Beirut’s Programme Officer for Culture, highlighted that UNESCO, who’s priority is to protect heritage, “supported all parties concerned with the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions, in particular resolution 2347, which explicitly states that attacks against archaeological sites and buildings shall be considered a war crime under international law and urges Member States to take the necessary steps to prevent and combat the illicit trafficking in cultural property”. Hence, “the value of this regional workshop in providing support to local Customs authorities in the MENA region through practical training on how to combat cross-border illicit trafficking in cultural property”.

Mr. Assaad Tfaily, President of the Lebanese Higher Council of Customs, also addressed participants and stated that: “Being rich in cultural heritage and being labelled as the cradle of civilizations, it was Lebanon’s duty to protect heritage and prevent smuggling and illicit trafficking of cultural properties”. He continued to reaffirm Lebanese Customs’ commitment to fight the illicit trafficking of cultural objects, highlighting the value of this workshop as “a platform for the exchange of information, experiences and expertise among participants”.

Ms. Michelle Medina and Ms. Mariya Polner from the WCO recalled the WCO Resolution adopted in July 2016 on the Role of Customs in Preventing Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Objects and emphasized the need to empower Customs officers with practical tools and knowledge to implement the WCO Resolution, and to support future joint operational activities.

During the four-day workshop participants learnt about the identification and handling of cultural objects and about dedicated tools and instruments, developed by the WCO, INTERPOL, International Council of Museums (ICOM) and other international partners. Specific expertise was provided on risk management and targeting of cultural objects including some identified trends and patterns as well as concealment methods. The Training Session also included a visit to the National Museum of Beirut as well as a hands-on exercise conducted at the archeological site where issues related to legal excavation, documentation, storage and handling of cultural objects were raised with specialists. The WCO concluded the training by reaffirming is commitment to work closely with its Members and key stakeholders to build the necessary capacities to protect cultural heritage.