November 24, 2017

Statement by the Permanent Representative of Cyprus Ambassador Sotos Zackheos to the 54th Session of the General Assembly on Cultural Heritage

Mr. President,

The issue of the return or restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin constitutes an area in which international relations are put to a test, a noble test to ensure that cooperation among state and non-state actors can effect change in the right direction in a wider area on which there is consensus on an international level, that of the absolute need to protect the cultural heritage of humanity.

My delegation attaches particular importance to this issue and to the efforts of the United Nations, in general, and UNESCO, in particular, for the considerable work that has been done in this direction. In this respect, we welcome the Secretary-General’s report contained in document A/54/436 and the 9 recommendations contained in the report of the Director-General of UNESCO on the action taken by the organization on the return and restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin.

 

Mr. President,

Since our last discussion on this item before this august body, a major development has taken place. The entry into force of the UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects on the 1st of July of 1998, a development which we warmly welcome, has added yet another important tool in our common efforts to protect the cultural heritage of the planet.

Cyprus, as a state-party to the Hague Convention of 1954 and a signatory of its Second Protocol adopted earlier this year, also follows with interest the work undertaken in the preparation of a Draft Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage and expresses its support for the efforts in this direction.

Cyprus notes the decision by the British Museum to organize an international conference on the cleaning and conservation of the Parthenon Marbles and welcomes the draft resolution submitted by the European Parliament for the return of the Parthenon Marbles to their natural home, the Acropolis of Athens well before 2004 on the occasion of the Olympic Games to be held there that year.

We believe that the Parthenon Marbles constitute a special case on the issue of restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin. They are not simply yet another item whose legal ownership is contested, but present a unique case. They are an integral part of one of the major monuments of civilization that has survived for more than two and a half millennia. We believe that the efforts for their return to Greece should be intensified and that such a development would contribute to the spirit of cooperation between two friendly countries whose bonds of friendship run very deep.

 

Mr. President,

The combating of illicit trafficking in cultural property is a task that requires perseverance and multi-faceted efforts. One of the major areas in this direction is the exchange of information and the compiling of inventories. Cyprus supports all efforts in this respect including the establishment of an on-line network by UNESCO that will include the widest possible inventory of cultural artifacts that have been stolen from their legal owners, including those removed illegally from areas of conflict and occupied territories.

Another area of cooperation which has to be expanded is that of the collaboration between police forces, museum staff and customs officers. Cyprus welcomes the efforts of INTERPOL in promulgating this cooperation and welcomes the protocol established between UNESCO and the World Customs Organization as well as the agreement between UNESCO and INTERPOL and the development of a database, containing 14,000 objects, by the latter.

Cyprus welcomes the adoption, on a national level, of several codes of ethics relating to the acquisition of property, by many museums in industrialized countries along the lines set by the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property of 1970 and the ICOM Professional Code of Ethics. We consider it important that, as we are ready to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the landmark 1970 Convention, next year, an international code of ethics will come into being further establishing the code that should regulate trading in cultural objects.

 

Mr. President,

My country’s 9,000 years of recorded civilization has left us with an immense cultural heritage that we have an obligation to protect and bequeath to future generations. By virtue of Cyprus’ geographical position at the crossroads of three continents and many civilizations, its cultural heritage has, through the millennia, been continually enriched and provides an insight into the many civilizations that have existed on the island during its long and colorful history. Many of the artifacts of this rich cultural heritage can be viewed in museums throughout the world. There are many more that have become objects of illicit traffic, especially those removed illegally, from the territory of the island, currently outside the government’s control. The plundering of the cultural heritage of Cyprus in this area has been so widespread that has led to a decision by the United States, a decision which we warmly welcome, to impose in April of this year, an emergency import restriction on Byzantine ecclesiastical and ritual ethnological material from Cyprus unless such material is accompanied by an export permit issued by the Government of Cyprus. Our determination to investigate the fate and pursue the return of every object of our cultural heritage removed illegally from Cyprus, to their legal owners is unshakable. In this effort, we look to the international community to extend its support.

 

Thank you, Mr. President.