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WCO contributes to the dialogue on preventing illicit trafficking of cultural objects in Iraq

29 enero 2019

An expert from the WCO participated in a workshop on cultural heritage protection held from 22 to 24 January 2019 in Baghdad, Iraq. The workshop brought together representatives of the Iraqi enforcement and intelligence services, as well as international experts, to discuss cultural heritage protection and strengthen the international network of dedicated professionals. Organized by the EU Advisory Mission (EUAM) to Iraq with the support of the Spanish Embassy in Iraq, the workshop served as a follow-up to the high-level conference organized by the EU Counter-Terrorism Office in Brussels in May 2018.

Participants reviewed practical measures to prevent illicit trafficking of cultural objects. Such measures are urgently needed as, although there is an embargo on trade in Iraqi antiquities illicitly taken from its territory since 6 August 1990 (in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolutions), Iraqi heritage is still being depleted, as witnessed by seizures reported by Customs and Police authorities around the globe. Besides the disastrous impact on the country’s heritage, this illicit activity also poses a risk in terms of money laundering and terrorist financing, and more efforts have been mobilized to uncover and prevent it.

During the three days of the workshop, participants had the opportunity to listen to expert presentations and to work, in breakout groups, on ways of solving specific problems, such as coordination and exchange of information between different agencies inside the country and internationally. Cooperation between Customs and Police was addressed in particular, as there is a growing recognition of the need for a stronger relationship between the two enforcement services in order to achieve more tangible results in countering illicit trade. The potential contribution of Customs in the security area was also highlighted by the WCO, and more particularly through the use of data analytics for a better understanding of illicit trafficking. 

Thanks to the Ministry of Culture of Iraq, the second day of the workshop took place in the world-famous Assyrian gallery of the Iraqi National Museum. The Museum had been closed for years and survived numerous assaults, including looting in 2003, with more than 15,000 objects reported as stolen. Some of these objects have been found on the international market and returned, and the Museum has been restored to its former glory and reopened its doors to visitors, showcasing numerous treasures dating back thousands of years. 

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