February 28, 2017
Submitted by Peter Herdrich
The principal effort by the United Nations to rationalize and strengthen national legal systems for the protection of cultural heritage received a significant boost at an event on February 28 in New York City. Called “Promoting and Strengthening the International Legal Framework for the Protection of Cultural Heritage – The 1995 UNIDROIT Convention and other relevant legal instruments and initiative,” the permanent missions of Italy and Cyprus and the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT) co-organized the effort.
In a crowded Conference Room Six at UN headquarters, featured speakers from Cyprus, the Council of Europe, INTERPOL, UNESCO, the United Nations Office
on Drugs and Crime, and UNIDROIT listened as Ambassador Inigo Lambertini, Deputy Permanent Representative of Italy to the United Nations opened the proceedings. Ambassador Lambertini introduced the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects, the principal focus of the presentation. The first keynote speaker, UNIDROIT Secretary General José Angelo Estrella-Faria, outlined efforts to encourage UN member states to ratify the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention.
The Secretary General is well-known to the Antiquities Coalition. He joined us in Jordan in September 2016 for our second regional #CultureUnderThreat conference in Amman, effectively promoting the need for harmonization of domestic legal systems to create a more effective response to looting and the illicit trade to the assembled MENA ministerial representatives.
At the UN, he focused on legal frameworks that rationalize prevention and restitution statues among nations. He also discussed the issues of compensation in the case of good faith purchase, burden of proof and the responsibilities of the purchaser to actively pursue due diligence, and time limits on legal statues. Because these issues are not treated in a uniform manner across nations, the UNIDROIT effort is a strong step in the fight for cultural heritage preservation. The Secretary-General told me that there are currently thirty-seven nations that had ratified the UNIDROIT Convention.
Other speakers shared significant developments in the effort to combat looting. The other keynote speaker, HE Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe, informed the participants that a new convention was currently under negotiation at the Council that will criminalize offenses related to cultural property.
Other speakers included Gilles Dutertre, Senior Trial Lawyer at the International Criminal Court, who joined by web link from The Hague, and discussed the significance of the Al Mahdi case. Ahmad al Faqi Al Mahdi, an alleged member of Ansar Eddine, a movement associated with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, was found guilty of the war crime of intentionally directing attacks against religious and historic buildings in Timbuktu, Mail in 2012. Marie-Paule Roudil of UNESCO, spoke about the need to encourage international cooperation and promote popular awarenss; UNODC’s Yu Ping Chan remarked about the importance of national efforts to criminalize illicit trafficking and noted the large number of members states in attendance; and Emmanuel Roux of INTERPOL stressed the resources his organization has available, including the importance of inventories and INTERPOL’s effort in creating the Works of Art Database.
During a discussion led by the Italian Mission’s Legal Advisor and principal expert on cultural heritage issues, Judge Luigi Marini, (left, center) two significant issues received attention. UNIDROIT, Italy, and Cyprus announced the establishment of a task force with the goal of encouraging wider ratification of the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention by member states. It will convene
annually in New York. Also launching soon is the UNIDROIT Convention Academic Project, which will support the task force. We also wish to thank Judge Marini for his generous comments about the Antiquities Coalition from the podium, citing the AC as “our longtime partners” in efforts to energize the UN’s world community in the fight against cultural racketeering.
Peter Herdrich is the Co-founder of the Antiquities Coalition.
Photos copyright by the Antiquities Coalition. All rights reserved.
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