Cultural object trafficking: Customs in West and Central Africa strategise

Comptroller Mohammed Uba of Federal Operation Unit Ikeja, Nigeria Customs Service, with his subordinates showing one of the seized ten trailers loaded with smuggled rice from Benin Republic recently

With the rising cases of illicit trafficking of cultural objects in the world, the World Customs Organisation (WCO) has identified security lapses and gaps in relation to awareness and skills of the Customs officers as the bane to countering the problem in the West and Central Africa.

This was noted at a workshop organized by the WCO in Burkina Faso for customs administrations in the region on the security and development: the role of Customs in cultural heritage protection.

Fifteen (15) countries including Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Republic of the Congo and Togo.

The workshop was opened by the Director General of the Burkinabe Customs, Mr Adama Sawadogo who welcomed the WCO initiative within the framework of the 2016 WCO Council Resolution on the Role of Customs in the prevention of illicit trafficking of cultural objects.

Ms Mariya Polner of the WCO also underlined that this topic is new for Customs officers in the WCA and because of instability and conflict, it is necessary to raise awareness as well as deploy specific tools in this domain.

Ms Khadiatou Camara of the UNESCO regional office in Dakar, Senegal, pointed out the growing threat of the illicit trade on the internet which reveals numerous challenges for law enforcement.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Tourism, Mr Abdoul Karim Sango, emphasized the close ties between the security and development, especially in the Sahel region marked by porous borders and conflict. He pointed out that safeguarding cultural heritage is a noble mission that directly contributes to peace and stability.

The brainstorming along with communications delivered by the participants on the different national situations and solutions and techniques developed by the international organizations led to the development of the recommendations addressing three major areas: awareness raising, inter-institutional coordination and cooperation as well as practical training.

The workshop was also supported by the experts from INTERPOL and regional office of UNESCO in Dakar, Senegal, as well as experts from the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Tourism of Burkina Faso, along with the Burkinabe national police, the army and the Inter-ministerial committee of human rights and international humanitarian law.

Since the WCO has already piloted the training modules in this area of enforcement in the MENA region in September 2017, these modules will be further tailored to take into account the results of the brainstorming and deployed in the WCA region in the nearest future.

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