"Countering Destruction of and Trafficking in Cultural Property: From Lessons Learned to Implementation" brought together international experts from government, law enforcement, and the nonprofit sector — including the Antiquities Coalition, the Carabinieri, INTERPOL, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Below are the full remarks of H.E. Ambassador Cardi, a career diplomat with over three decades of service in Italy and abroad, who has been a tireless advocate for heritage preservation:
At the outset, I thank the Permanent Mission of Jordan and Ambassador Dina Kawar and the UNESCO Office in New York for joining us in promoting and organizing this event. Your cooperation and input have been extremely helpful.
A sincere thank you and a welcome to all the panelists who have accepted our joint invitation. We look forward to hearing your thoughts, and to the interesting debate we know we can expect from the floor in the second half of the meeting.
The response we have received to this event attests to the prominence of this issue on the international agenda. There is indeed a need for enhanced cooperation among States and institutions to counter what the Director General of UNESCO has rightly called an outbreak of “cultural cleansing.”
As the concept note for today’s event points out, there has been a recent spike in the barbaric destruction of and terrorist attacks on the cultural heritage of countries affected by armed conflict. This, together with the unprecedented scale of organized looting and illicit trafficking in cultural objects. Such crimes seek to erode our collective cultural and historical heritage and are being used to intimidate populations. In addition, these acts are meant to generate income for terrorist groups, to support their recruitment efforts, and to strengthen their operational capability to organize and carry out terrorist attacks.
This risk is particularly high in the Middle East and in the Mediterranean – although not limited to these regions – where the multiethnic and multi-religious character of the societies is under severe threat. As a close friend and member of the region, Italy is a staunch believer in preserving inclusiveness and diversity and is ready to deploy the necessary political and practical tools to address this challenge through international cooperation.
Today’s roundtable offers the panelists an opportunity to discuss innovative and practical ways to protect and preserve cultural heritage. We will also be briefed by UNESCO, INTERPOL, the Italian Carabinieri, UNODC, and other experts on practical measures for addressing this threat and implementing the established international legal framework.
In 1969, Italy became the first Country in the world to create a police division specialized in the protection of cultural heritage and the fight against illegal trafficking of cultural property. Building on this experience, we are very active in this field at both the political and the technical levels, as you will hear shortly from a representative of the Carabinieri corps.
Allow me to mention some of our political initiatives.
In the framework of the Anti-ISIL Coalition, Italy is co-chairing with the USA and Saudi Arabia the “Counter ISIL Finance Group,” whose aims include promoting swift implementation of UNSCR 2199 (co-sponsored by Italy).
This Group has already met twice: the first time in Rome in March and then in Gedda at the beginning of May. In Rome the members of the Group adopted an action plan with concrete proposals to counter ISIL/DAESH’s economic sustainability. The Action Plan identifies four main areas of enhanced cooperation: 1) prevent ISIL’s use of the international financial system; 2) counter the extortion and exploitation of economic assets and resources that transit, enter, or are derived from ISIL-held territory; 3) deny ISIL funding from abroad; and 4) prevent ISIL from providing financial or material support to foreign affiliates in an effort to expand its global ambitions.
It was at Italy’s request that reference was made in the action plan to countering the smuggling of archeological and cultural goods. During the second meeting of the Group, held in Gedda, three sub-groups were established to pursue specific items of the action plan and devise operational proposals. Italy will be chairing the sub-group on illegal trafficking in cultural property.
The sub-group will provide investigative cooperation in detecting international smuggling routes and foreign facilitators, middlemen, or buyers, and in tracking down stolen or looted cultural property, including archaeological objects. It will also support and enhance implementation of the INTERPOL’s international database, in order to facilitate identification and recovery of cultural and archeological goods, also by strengthening existing tools such as the Protection System for Cultural Heritage (PSYCHE) project.
Three final remarks. First, our national action is expressed most prominently at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, and we appreciate DG Bokova’s participation in yesterday’s meeting of the anti-Daesh Coalition and the proposals she made during the meeting. At the initiative of Italy and Spain, in April the UNESCO Executive Board adopted resolution 196 on culture in areas of conflict. The resolution underlines that damage to the archaeological, historical, cultural and religious tangible and intangible heritage constitutes damage to the cultural heritage of humanity as a whole, and that, according to international law, intentional attacks on buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science or charitable purposes and historic monuments may be considered a war crime.
Second, it is time to translate into practice the resolution on the protection of cultural items in Iraq.
The last one is on accountability, fighting impunity and promoting justice. As Vice President of the Assembly of State parties of the International Criminal Court, allow me to recall the importance of prevention through justice.
Protecting the cultural heritage and integrating the cultural dimension into the prevention and settlement of conflicts is not only an emergency measure: it is also a political and security imperative. I am confident that today’s event will contribute to our common cause.