Concerned at looting, UN body calls for renewed protection of Iraq’s heritage

14 February 2005

Voicing concern over the continued pillaging of cultural objects in Iraq, a United Nations committee has called for continued efforts by international cultural and police organizations to stem the illicit trafficking of the war-torn country’s heritage.

Voicing concern over the continued pillaging of cultural objects in Iraq, a United Nations committee has called for continued efforts by international cultural and police organizations to stem the illicit trafficking of the war-torn country’s heritage.

At its 13th session ending last week, the Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in case of Illicit Appropriation urged Member States of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to adopt a model Export Certificate for Cultural Objects developed by the agency and the World Customs Organization to facilitate surveillance of such objects to curb illicit trafficking.

The Committee, comprising 22 Member States, is responsible for seeking ways and means of facilitating bilateral negotiations for the restitution or return of cultural property to its countries of origin, and promoting such restitution. It addressed its call to UNESCO and its partners, the International Council of Museums (ICOM), the world police agency INTERPOL and the Italian Carabinieri police.

UNESCO has shown great concern over Iraq’s priceless 7,000-year-old cultural heritage ever since widespread looting of museums and archaeological sites was reported during and shortly after the United States-led invasion in 2003. A coordinating body established under the joint auspices of the Iraqi authorities and UNESCO drew up a seven-point blueprint last May for the “immense and vital” challenge of conservation, rehabilitation, capacity building, training and coordination.

The Committee also took note of the continuing cooperation between the British Museum and Greek museums over the issue of the Parthenon Marbles, and invited UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura to help organize more meetings between the United Kingdom and Greece, “with a view to resolving the question…taking in account at the same time the sensitivities of both sides.”

It also invited Germany and Turkey “to continue comprehensive bilateral negotiations” over the Sphinx of Bogusköy, which is currently on display at the Berlin Museum.

In his closing address to the Committee, Mr. Matsuura pointed out that the issues surrounding the return and restitution of cultural property are attracting greater attention than ever before. “In this context, UNESCO continues to be committed to promote its normative and safeguarding action,” he said.

 

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