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Completion of online training on combating the trafficking of cultural property in Africa

17 junio 2020

Today, Wednesday 17 June, marks the end of a fortnight during which heritage professionals, Customs officials and police officers from six countries of West and North Africa, namely Burkina Faso, Mali, Morocco, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal, shared knowledge about how to strengthen the operational networks for combating the trafficking of cultural property.

The closing ceremony linked each of these countries up with the representatives of the event’s co‑organizers: Paris with the presence of Mr. Ernesto Ottone R., Assistant Director-General for Culture of UNESCO; Niamey with Mr. Assoumana Malam Issa, Minister for Culture of Niger; Brussels with Mr. Stefan Kirsch, Deputy Director for Compliance and Enforcement in the World Customs Organization (WCO); and Lyon with Mr. Corrado Catesi, Coordinator, Works of Art Unit, INTERPOL.

Launched by the UNESCO Regional Office in Dakar in partnership with the WCO and INTERPOL, this training was conducted remotely. For a period of two weeks, the participants tackled practical and varied subjects ranging from heritage law to the authentication of cultural property, the management of risks and urgent situations and indeed the protection of the manuscripts of the Sahel. Other matters covered were follow-up on operational activities, such as the worldwide Athena II operation organized by the WCO and INTERPOL in autumn 2019, further discussions on the operating methods of traffickers and effective means for preventing smuggling, and promoting the use of dedicated information tools and platforms for Customs officials and police officers, such as INTERPOL’s database on stolen works of art and Purple Notices, the WCO’s ARCHEO platform and the Livret des forces de l’ordre et de sécurité (booklet for the law enforcement and security agencies) developed by UNESCO Dakar.

The participants who followed the training carried out 15 hours of personal work, participated in more than 13 hours of live sessions, viewed 12 hours of videos, read sundry training materials and also shared their experiences via social networks. Through this training, although it took place online in a region where there are connectivity challenges, the participants were able to establish strong relationships, perhaps even stronger than they would have been in person. The experience was a success, and it demonstrates that there are different ways of approaching capacity-building activities.

“This training revealed a genuine community of practices that binds together quite different professional groups working according to different codes, but among whom a common language can be developed. The challenge has been met successfully, one of the tangible outcomes being the improvement of an inter-agency modus operandi for smoother coordination at national, regional and international level,” said Mr. Ernesto Ottone R., UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Culture.

In addition to facilitating exchanges of experience and the development of operational procedures, this programme was a way of developing the dialogue further and improving coordination between the law enforcement and security agencies, Ministries of Culture and heritage professionals at national level.

There were good reasons for opting for inter-agency training, which is in line with the series of activities undertaken by UNESCO, the WCO and INTERPOL since 2018, when their operational partnership in Africa began. The training follows up on the WCO’s PITCH training, which took place in December 2018 in Dakar, and it provided an opportunity to test the very first capacity-building framework specifically designed for Customs on combating the trafficking of cultural property worldwide.

“This workshop that we are bringing to a close marks a turning point in the regional and international activities we are conducting with our partners in UNESCO and INTERPOL. The six countries that took part in this programme represent two geographical regions which, from studies of the patterns of traffic from Africa, were identified as the most vulnerable. It is essential to establish interregional dialogue because these countries are part of the supply chains leading to the destination markets,” stressed Mr. Stefan Kirsch, the WCO’s Deputy Director for Compliance and Enforcement.

“I am particularly pleased to see how this training has made it possible to identify not only priority inter-agency actions for each country, but also urgent interventions to prevent illegally exported cultural property from other countries passing with impunity through certain hubs that do not have the operational and legal means to stop them and block their progress. Ultimately, this will help to improve protection for items of African heritage and ensure that they do not leave the continent illegally,” said Mr. Corrado Catesi, Coordinator, Works of Art Unit, INTERPOL.

This training represents a major milestone in combating organized crime and the illegal movement of African cultural property. The next essential stage is to strengthen national legal frameworks for the protection of cultural property, an initiative in which UNESCO is ready to support its national partners.

Useful links:


Ms. Guiomar Alonso Cano, Regional Advisor for Culture, West Africa - Sahel

Ms. Mariya Polner, Senior Policy Advisor, Compliance and Enforcement, World Customs Organization

Mr. Corrado Catesi, Coordinator, Works of Art Unit, INTERPOL