March 29, 2017

Promoting and strengthening the international legal framework for the protection of cultural heritage

A special event on Promoting and strengthening the international legal framework for the protection of cultural heritage took place on Tuesday, 28 February 2017, at the UN Headquarters, co-organized by the Missions of Cyprus and Italy to the UN and by the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT).

The event was opened by the Permanent Representative of Cyprus to the UN, Ambassador Kornelios Korneliou and the Deputy Permanent Representative of Italy to the UN, Ambassador Inigo Lambertini. Keynote speakers at the event were Mr. José Angelo Estrella-Faria, Secretary-General of UNIDROIT and Mrs. Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni, Deputy Secretary-General of the Council of Europe. A panel of experts on the matter featured Mr. Gilles Dutertre, Senior Trial Lawyer of the International Criminal Court in the Al-Mahdi Case, Mrs. Marie Paule Roudil, the Director of the UNESCO Liaison Office in New York, Mr. Emmanuel Roux, Special Representative of INTERPOL to the United Nations and Ms. Yu Ping Chan, expert at the UNODC New York Office.

During the event, views were exchanged regarding differences in domestic legal systems hindering the fighting against trafficking in cultural objects and the effective restitution of illicitly traded cultural property , as well as ways to address these issues. The importance of effective implementation of relevant international Conventions and legal instruments and of international cooperation through the work of international organizations was stressed in this regard.

As stressed by the Secretary General of UNIDROIT Mr. Estrella Faria, in his keynote speech, ratification of the self-executing 1995 UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects is key, with its pioneering provisions on due diligence in particular, in improving internationally both prevention of stealing or illegally exporting cultural objects and restitution of such cultural objects. The 1995 UNIDROIT Convention complements the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property from the perspective of private law. The Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe Mrs Battaini-Dragoni in her keynote speech, informed on the new Convention of the Council of Europe, currently under negotiation, on Offences related to Cultural Property, which will criminalize offences related to cultural property.

The Director of the UNESCO Liaison Office in New York highlighted the significance of prevention, strengthened international cooperation and complementarity of efforts and the need for a continuous outreach call to promote awareness and further ratification of international instruments. The Director also underlined the valuable decades-long close cooperation and successful partnership between UNESCO and UNIDROIT, which led, inter alia, to the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention, at UNESCO’s request, as well as the Model Provisions on State Ownership of Undiscovered Cultural Objects. The Senior Trial Lawyer of the International Criminal Court in the Al-Mahdi Case, elaborated on the importance of the judgement in this case as the first of its kind at the International Criminal Court where a person has been found guilty of the war crime of directing an attack against historic and religious buildings. He stated that it is a clear message to everyone that such crimes are not tolerated and cannot go unpunished. He added that the Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has set up a working group in charge of preparing a policy paper on cultural property.

The Special Representative of INTERPOL Office in New York stressed the need to make full use of the legal framework in order to enhance efforts in the field of law enforcement and referred to initiatives and tools developed by INTERPOL that are at the disposal of States in this regard, such as the Works of Art Database. He also raised the audience’s awareness regarding the “Unity for Security” Forum, organized in Abu Dhabi March 26-28 2017, with a specific panel on this very topic.

The representative of the UNODC New York Office highlighted the importance of enhancing national efforts to criminalize illicit trafficking of cultural property and mentioned other international treaties – the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the United Nations Convention against Corruption, and the International Guidelines on crime prevention and criminal justice responses to this phenomenon, adopted by the General Assembly in its resolution 69/196, which can be instrumental to more effectively combat the illicit trafficking in cultural property.”

There was a wide acknowledgement of the importance of a holistic, multidisciplinary approach in addressing the matter and of the complementarity and synergies between the crucial work of international organizations and the numerous important international legal instruments.

During the event, UNIDROIT and the Missions of Cyprus and Italy to the UN announced the establishment of an informal Task Force, open to all States wishing to participate, aimed at the promotion of the wider ratification of the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention. The Task Force will be coordinated by UNIDROIT, assisted by the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention Academic Project which will be launched soon, and will convene on an annual basis in New York, in order to provide a platform for the exchange of views on issues such as the state of ratifications of existing international instruments, for the promotion of activities aimed at awareness, information and best practices sharing , and for training and education to assist on the signing, ratification and implementation of the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention.