May 18, 2021

Statement by H.E. Mr. Andreas Mavroyiannis Ambassador, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Cyprus on the Return of Cultural Property to the Countries of Origin

Mr. President,

The report of the Secretary-General on the Return or Restitution of Cultural Property to the Countries of Origin contained in Document A/58/314, delivers a hopeful message that much of what needs to be done, is being done, and that important efforts to protect cultural properties are well on the way to bearing fruitful results. Though we note that not all the provisions and goals set by the General Assembly resolutions have been implemented, we believe that UNESCO and its Director-General deserve to be commended for the significant progress achieved. We are gratified by, both the contents of the progress report and by the recommendations contained therein. We welcome also the results of the Twelfth Special Session of the Intergovernmental Committee, held in Paris from 25 to 28 March 2003. We are also encouraged by the efforts of the Intergovernmental Committee to resolve issues of highly symbolic importance such as that of the return of the Parthenon Marbles.

We also commend UNESCO’s efforts to promote bilateral negotiations for the return or restitution of cultural property as a matter of principle and for providing all the legal and moral arguments favoring such restitution. It is to be congratulated also for increasing public awareness for this issue and for assisting in specific cases.

Similarly, we note with satisfaction that since March 2001, nine more states have joined the 1970 UNESCO Convention and five more joined the UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or illegally Exported Objects. These are positive developments that reinforce the campaign against the illicit trafficking of cultural property. Existing international Conventions for the protection of world cultural property must be given our full support, with the goal of increasing the number of ratifications and providing technical assistance to States with acute problems of illicit trafficking of archaeological objects, as well as aiding countries in armed conflict.

Mr. President,

Cultural treasures are the visible footprints on the path of man through history. They bring testimony on the ways, found by those who preceded us to decode infinity and constitute the connecting link with the vertical dimension, with the ideals of beauty and humanism, embodying spiritual values and the best of human skills. They are therefore at any given time, at any given place the highest combined expression of the mind and of the work of human hands.

The destruction of cultural heritage is an old scourge that needs to be eradicated collectively by the international community in close cooperation with UNESCO, as well as other relevant UN bodies and multilateral institutions. The return or restitution of cultural property is not a practice that seeks to empty the Museums of the world. It is a notion based on the idea that the past enshrines and creates national identity and pride and therefore some unique objects of that past should be returned to their rightful place in their countries of origin. The return or restitution of cultural property to the country of origin is an issue that contributes to the strengthening of international cooperation both on a multilateral and bilateral level. In this context, I wish to mention the most recent renewal of a bilateral agreement between Cyprus and the United States on import restrictions of Byzantine ecclesiastical and ritual ethnological material from Cyprus, unless such material is accompanied by an export permit issued by the Government of Cyprus.

The recent examples of the looting of the cultural heritage in Iraq and Afghanistan and several other examples have demonstrated that looting and destruction are not merely things of the past and illustrate the need to remain vigilant and the need for more permanent measures required in the battle against the illicit trafficking of cultural heritage items. To this end, we stress once more the imminent need for the promotion of the Object-ID standard in order to promptly identify objects which have been stolen, and the usefulness of measures such as international expertise and cooperation in drafting and circulating national cultural property legislation.

Mr. President,

Cyprus is one of the old and rich cradles of civilization. This legacy, in combination with the anguish caused by our recent experiences, have resulted in special sensitivity on issues of protection of cultural heritage. We appreciate that the cultural heritage of every country, its monuments and works of art, embody the intellectual presence and the power of people who created it and at the same part belong to mankind and form part of our common heritage. Hence, we feel heavy on us the duty to do our utmost for the protection of cultural property everywhere in the world.

In Cyprus today the cultural heritage of its occupied north is being barbarically violated. An ancient civilization that dates back 10000 years continues to suffer under foreign occupation and monuments and religious treasures are left to the mercy of vandals and looters. Cyprus’ painful experience of the systematic destruction of its cultural heritage and its continuing struggle to save its stolen heritage from the international black market brings to the forefront the need for enhanced international cooperation against illicit art trafficking and for strengthening national cultural property legislation.

We count on international efforts to protect ecumenical civilisation to contribute in saving the archaeological and ecclesiastical monuments and landmarks manifesting the rich cultural historical background of Cyprus. We hope that the considerable efforts of the International Community in the direction of returning cultural objects illegally removed from their rightful owners will be extended towards the salvation of these unique structures of human civilisation.

In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, let me remind this august body of the words of the ancient poet, Euripides, that the “ Fool is the one who sacks a city, making a desert of temples, pillaging the tombs, the sanctuaries of the dead, for he prepares his own doom in times to come.”

Thank you, Mr. President.