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Customs role in the fight against trafficking in cultural property highlighted during UNESCO Conference

19 noviembre 2020

Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya spoke on the role of Customs and the WCO in the fight against trafficking in cultural property at a high-level panel session held during the international online Conference on cultural heritage and the fight against illicit trafficking on 17 November 2020. The Conference was organized by UNESCO in collaboration with Germany, the EU and the Council of Europe, to mark the 50th Anniversary of the 1970 UNESCO Convention against illicit trafficking of cultural goods and celebrate the first International Day against illicit trafficking in cultural property.

Dr. Mikuriya explained the change in the trade environment since the 1970s, when the UNESCO Convention was adopted, pointing out that Customs officers were mostly performing paper-based clearance at that time. Fifty years later, Customs officers are working in an automated environment as trade has become more paperless, and electronic commerce has been increasing in recent years.

However, he stressed that as goods still have to cross borders they can be checked and verified before entering the market - hence the critical role of Customs in combating the illicit trafficking of cultural goods and any other illicit trade.  He offered an insight into the WCO’s contribution of providing PITCH (Prevention of Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Heritage) training to Customs officers, as well as operational support involving Customs and Police, and the secure electronic information exchange platform codenamed ARCHEO, placed at the disposal of Customs administrations, other enforcement agencies and international experts, among others, to facilitate the identification of suspect items.

Secretary General Mikuriya went on to emphasize the need for collaboration with partners through the development or implementation of tools and programmes, including the Customs-Police Handbook and Customs-FIU Handbook. He highlighted the need to work with the police and judicial authorities to tackle the illicit trade supply chain exploited by organized crime.

Dr. Mikuriya added that it was important to raise public awareness about this important issue, while dedicating more resources to training. He informed participants that Heads of Customs had listened to the voice of the museum community during the recent WCO Council sessions, and understood that the trafficking of cultural property was not only about illegal profits or breach of security; such property embodied the soul of a people, and its loss had to be seen in those terms. The Council had agreed to prioritize the fight against the trafficking of cultural property by adopting a Resolution on this subject.

Throughout the Conference, high-level speakers expressed their appreciation of the contribution made by Customs in protecting cultural heritage from illicit trafficking.