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Customs community celebrates International Day against Illicit Trafficking in Cultural Property

14 noviembre 2022

On 14 November, the global community celebrates the International Day against Illicit Trafficking in Cultural Property.

Illicit trafficking of cultural property is a global phenomenon, exacerbated in some regions by fragility, armed conflict and natural disasters. Since 2016, when the WCO Council adopted a Resolution on the Role of Customs in Preventing Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Objects, its 184 Member Administrations committed to fighting against this scourge. This particular crime may be connected to a number of other serious crimes, such as money laundering and terrorist financing. It may also manifest itself by attacking identity of people and trying to erase the memory of their culture and traditions by pillaging and destroying cultural heritage sites, thus being qualified as a crime against humanity.

In September 2022, the UNESCO World Conference on Cultural Policies and Sustainable Development, MONDIACULT 2022, was held in Mexico with the participation of 150 States. As a result of 10 months of negotiations, a MONDIACULT 2022 Declaration was adopted. Through this Declaration, the governments unanimously commit to step up their fight against illicit trafficking of cultural objects. The Declaration also calls for closer international cooperation with all partners involved into this fight, including the World Customs Organization (WCO), INTERPOL, UNIDROIT, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the International Council of Museums (ICOM).

For the past six years, the WCO has been assisting its Members as well as counterpart Police forces in detection, seizure and investigations related to illicit trafficking of cultural objects. This work has been continuously conducted through the WCO ARCHEO platform in addition to the annual regional and global operations Pandora and Athena coordinated in cooperation with INTERPOL and Europol. Apart from assisting Customs officers and their police counterparts to facilitate the movement of goods that do not represent cultural, scientific or religious value, this work has led to a number of important seizures and restitutions of cultural objects across the globe.

Apart from the operational support, the WCO, in cooperation with its partners, continues strengthening technical capacities of the Customs administrations by deploying its flagship specialized PITCH (Preventing Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Heritage) training to frontline Customs officers. Up to now, more than 300 officers from over 40 countries on different continents received this face-to-face practical training. The WCO also continues its efforts to raise awareness on the role of Customs in countering illicit trafficking of cultural objects at the policy level through its engagement at G20 Culture Ministers’ Meeting in Rome in July 2021 and Euromed Ministerial in June 2022 in Naples.