Need for customs to prioritise trafficking of cultural heritage – WCO

Mr. Nikos Christodoulides, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cyprus, listening attentively to WCO Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya during his address at the “Act for Heritage!” Conference


Secretary General of World Customs Organisation (WCO), Kunio Mikuriya has stressed the need for customs to prioritize the trafficking of cultural heritage as an evolving risk area linked to security and safety, following the destruction of cultural objects in Iraq and Syria by so-called “Islamic State”. 

Mikuriya made this known in a speech he delivered at “Act for Heritage!”Conference for promotion of the Council of Europe Convention on Offences relating to Cultural Property (“Nicosia Convention”) held in Nicosia, Cyprus last week.

Analysing the seizure record, Dr. Mikuriya observed that most cultural objects had been seized in Europe, demonstrating the region’s heightened awareness of Customs-Police cooperation and expertise in art markets.

In this context, he suggested that the Nicosia Convention could fill the current gaps in the fight against the trafficking of cultural objects by criminalizing these offences, thereby raising awareness by preventing them from being seen as “victimless crimes” and helping law enforcement agencies to tackle the criminal organizations and armed groups behind global illicit trade supply chains.

He explained the WCO programme on Cultural Heritage, launched in 2015, which consists of three layers:

– At the strategic level, awareness-raising and advocacy of Customs’ role in this domain of enforcement and enhanced collaborative ties with policy makers and other law enforcement agencies, resulting in the adoption, in 2016, of the Council Resolution on the Role of Customs in Preventing Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Objects;

– At the tactical level, specialized training for frontline Customs officers with the PITCH (Prevention of Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Heritage) Handbook, already delivered in several regions suffering from violence and conflicts;

– At the operational level, through ARCHEO (the WCO’s closed communication network for law enforcement), facilitation of operational activities and contacts, as Customs at the borders need prompt feedback from art experts to identify the possible trafficking of cultural objects, and cooperation with Police.

The Conference participants shared study results and national experiences on this important topic, in order to identify best practices. 

Cyprus Customs officers, under the leadership of Acting Director General Ms. Kyriaki Myrianthopoulou, showcased Customs’ contribution in protecting cultural objects at borders. 

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