Illegal trade in Iraqi cultural heritage must end, says UN expert committee
An international committee set up by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is appealing to the international community to help stop the illicit excavation, pillaging and trafficking of Iraqi cultural property.
The 20-member International Coordination Committee for the Safeguarding of Iraqi Cultural Heritage, which met for two days this week at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, has called for a series of measures to discourage the widespread trade in Iraqi artefacts.
The committee recommended the introduction of a formal global prohibition on the trade in or transfer of ancient Iraqi cultural property, and measures to encourage all countries to keep any recovered items in safe havens with a view to returning them to Iraq when the adequate conditions for their protection are met.
The committee also called for an awareness campaign to alert the world, especially participants in the art market such as antique deals and auction houses and museum staff, of their responsibilities towards Iraqi cultural property.
In addition, it said Iraqi professionals in the art, archaeological and history fields need longer and more sustainable training programmes so they can take better care of their country’s cultural heritage.
UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura told the meeting that “the preservation of one of the world’s richest and most ancient heritages is at stake. The rehabilitation of Iraqi cultural heritage is vital to restoring stability in the country – to rebuilding dialogue, social cohesion and, ultimately, peace.”
The committee, which brings together experts on Iraqi cultural heritage, was jointly founded by UNESCO and the Iraqi Government and held its first meeting in 2004.