May 21, 2019

Statement by Amb. Korneliou at the plenary meeting of the GA on Cultural Property, 13 December 2018

Item 10- Return or restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin

United Nations General Assembly, 13 December 2018

Madame President,

At the outset, I wish to commend Greece, the main sponsor of the draft resolution on the Return or restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin. We welcome the updates to the resolution that reflect important initiatives and developments in this area.

Cyprus supports and co-sponsors the draft Resolution on the Return or restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin and appreciates today’s discussion.

Madame President,

Despite the numerous international conventions and decisions for the protection of cultural heritage, there is still a lot that the international community can do in this regard. That said, the draft resolution acquires particular significance in the collective efforts for the protection of the cultural heritage and the return or restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin.

The protection of cultural property is a priority in Cyprus’ foreign policy. This is hardly surprising if one considers Cyprus’ rich cultural heritage dating back thousands of years and the bitter experience of witnessing its destruction and looting due to the foreign military occupation since 1974.

We are in a constant effort to repatriate the stolen cultural treasures, many of which – approximately 60,000 objects – were illegally exported from the occupied part of Cyprus.

To this end, Cyprus actively promotes the adoption of measures against the destruction and illicit trafficking of cultural heritage and the return or restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin, both at national and international level.

At national level, amongst its priorities are:

  1. Stronger, more comprehensive and coordinated measures, policing and monitoring cases related to cultural heritage;
  1. Digitization of cultural heritage, both movable and immovable;
  1. Enhancing the public role in combating looting and illicit trafficking of cultural heritage.

At international level, some of the recent initiatives include:

  • the establishment, of the “Group of Friends for the protection of cultural heritage, together with Italy, within the framework of UN in NY;
  • Cyprus’ initiative in Geneva for the adoption of the Resolution of the Council of Human Rights on Cultural Rights and the Protection of Cultural Heritage, unanimously adopted in March 2018;
  • finally, the adoption in 2017, of the Council of Europe’s Convention on Offences Relating to Cultural Property, also known as the “Nicosia Convention”, an initiative of Cyprus’ Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

This Convention is in fact the first legal text that incorporates a criminal code for perpetrators who destroy steel or trade cultural heritage treasures. Its key characteristics are, amongst others,

– the provision that the burden of proof lies with the buyer or the possessor of the artifact; the need for the harmonization of national legislation in order to promote and facilitate inter-state cooperation in combating illegal trafficking of cultural heritage.

Moreover, this Convention promotes international cooperation in this field.

The Convention is open for signature and accession by Members and non-member states of the Council of Europe. Once again, I call upon all of you to become a party to the “Nicosia Convention”, an important and unique legal tool for the protection of cultural heritage and the return or restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin.

Madame President,

We are convinced that the unanimous adoption and implementation of the resolution under discussion will enhance further our cooperation and efforts for the protection of our common global cultural heritage. And this must be a priority for all of us.

Thank you for your kind attention.