Combating Trafficking of Antiquities Workshop
Qatar National Library (QNL), in its role as the IFLA Preservation and Conservation Regional Center (PAC) for Arab countries and the Middle East, organized Monday a workshop titled, "Countering Trafficking of Cultural Property Including Documentary Heritage," in partnership with the Ministry of Culture and the Embassies of the United States, Italy and France in Qatar.
The workshop, which continues till Sept. 8, examines the best practices in combating the trafficking of antiquities as well as programs and policies that protect cultural heritage and property rights.
The workshop is presented by international and local experts from Qatar Museums; the Art Crime Team from the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); the Carabinieri Unit of Rome for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, Italy; the National Directorate of Customs Intelligence and Investigation, France; and the International Center for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property, United Arab Emirates, among others. The speakers discuss the laws and mechanisms that prevent the sale of conflict antiquities in the region and worldwide and shared guidance on identifying and intervening to prevent the trafficking of cultural property.
Participants from various industry sectors across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region explored research and conservation techniques, funding mechanisms, advocacy methods, educational outreach efforts, and law enforcement strategies designed to protect cultural property and artefacts. They also discussed how the public and private sectors can work together to counter antiquities trafficking.
In opening remarks, HE Minister of State and President of Qatar National Library Dr. Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al Kuwari said: "It is a pleasure to open this high-level workshop on combating the trafficking of cultural property and documentary heritage, held within the framework of the Library's role as the regional IFLA PAC center to support the preservation of documentary heritage in the Arab region and the Middle East.
This reflects the constant and continuous attention that the Library attaches to this issue that threatens the heritage of the Arab world and indeed, the heritage of all humanity." HE Dr. Al Kuwari pointed to the efforts of the State of Qatar in combating trafficking in cultural heritage, and highlighted the important role of Qatar National Library in this regard, saying: "The Library has been a pioneer in the fight against trafficking of documentary heritage through initiatives such as the launch in 2020 of the Himaya Project, an initiative aimed at engaging international and regional organizations to strengthen and coordinate efforts to combat the illicit trafficking and circulation of documentary heritage in the MENA region." Dr. Al Kuwari warned of the devastating effects of the looting of the human cultural property, noting that the illegal trade and smuggling of archaeological property and cultural materials has become closer to the epidemic that is sweeping the world and threatens the memory of the world to be forgotten and its connection with its past to be interrupted.
He said that cultural institutions have the duty to confront this imminent danger, pointing to many international agreements that have been concluded since the seventies and have played a major role in providing the legal framework to combat the smuggling of archaeological and cultural materials.
He noted the growing challenges that necessitate continued joint efforts and coordination among nations in order to counter the spread of smuggling and illegal trafficking in cultural property, because smugglers are increasing their ingenuity and exploiting the possibilities provided by modern technology and social networking sites.
Dr. Al Kuwari added that the danger of smuggling heritage and cultural materials is even threatening many developed and stable countries, and this danger aggravates in countries that are it by conflicts and political unrest. Many sisterly and friendly countries described as the cradle of human civilizations are exposed to the dangers of illegal trade in property, such as Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan.
In conclusion, HE Minister of State and President of Qatar National Library Dr. Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al Kuwari expressed gratitude to the partners and collaborators in organizing this workshop, namely the Ministry of Culture, the Embassies of France, Italy and the United States, as well as the General Authority of Customs for their cooperation and the exchange of knowledge in building regional capacities to combat the smuggling of documentary heritage.
For his part, Director of the Libraries Department at the Ministry of Culture Jassim Ahmed Al Buainain underlined the Ministry's keenness on protecting the documentary heritage and intellectual property, primarily manuscripts, of which the illegal traffic has increased in recent years, particularly in countries hit by armed conflicts.
"It is a pleasure for us to be collaborating on this important workshop that will provide participants with key tools and information in combating the trafficking of cultural property in the region. Initiatives such as these are essential in providing a clear and strong response to stem this growing issue. We will continue to work with the Library and other institutions to raise awareness, enact legislation and address this grave threat in a way that preserves the historical rights of nations and peoples," he stressed.
During the opening session of the "Countering Trafficking of Cultural Property Including Documentary Heritage" workshop, HE the Ambassador of Italy to the State of Qatar Alessandro Prunas said that Italy is deeply committed to the protection and safeguarding of cultural heritage, with particular attention to crisis contexts, including the wider MENA region. Indeed, Italy is at the forefront of many international activities carried out within international fora such as UNESCO, the G20 and the conference of the Ministers of Culture of the Euro-Mediterranean Region, of which Italy has been one of the main supporters.
For his part, HE Ambassador of the French Republic to the State of Qatar Jean-Baptiste Faivre reviewed France's role in protecting the cultural heritage of humanity, pointing out that the participation of French experts in the workshop reflects France's willingness to support collaboration between international experts to identify and share best practices and to establish guidance in preventing the trafficking of cultural property and documentary heritage.
He extend his appreciation to QNL for having organized such a timely workshop and for its leading role in the region on this critical matter.
HE Public Affairs Officer at US Embassy in Qatar Rachel Mikeska said that historic sites, objects, and documents connect us to our cultural origins.
They are vital tools not only for scholarship and education, but also for transmitting each societys values and identity to future generations. She added that the U.S. government is pleased to participate in this important workshop with experts from the FBI, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security.
In his remarks to Qatar News Agency (QNA) on the sidelines of the workshop, HE Ambassador of the Republic of Yemen to the State of Qatar Rajeh Hussain Farhan Badi elaborated that Yemen has a large and diverse cultural stockpile, yet it is exposed to real dangers as a result of the war that lasted for nearly seven years. He stressed that the efforts of QNL in organizing this workshop serve as a defining compass to preserve this heritage and a wake-up call confirming the need for concentrated Arab and international efforts to protect this heritage.
The first session of the international workshop started today including several working papers, notably "Cultural Property Crime: Circulation and Stakeholders from A to Z" presented by Director of Distinctive Collections at Qatar National Library Stephane Ipert, "Transnational Trafficking of Cultural Property through the Lens of International Law" presented by Chair of International Law at the University of Bologna Prof. Attila M. Tanzi, "The Importance of Cooperation between Heritage Professionals and Law Enforcement Officers" presented by Director of Cultural Heritage Protection at Qatar Museums Abdullatif Al Jasmi, and efforts of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in combating trafficking in cultural property presented by Member of Heritage Authority of the Ministry of Culture in Saudi Arabia Dr. Daifallah Al Otaibi.
The workshop comes as part of the Himaya Project framework, an initiative launched by the Library to counter the trafficking and illegal circulation of documentary heritage in the region and neighboring countries. Himaya engages international agencies and regional organizations to protect heritage artifacts and prevent the trafficking of such items.
In the same context, QNL announced that several upcoming projects are set to launch under the Himaya Project in 2023, which include; the close cooperation with the General Authority of Customs in Qatar for capacity building of officers in the region; the rollout of projects to combat the trafficking of antiquities in Afghanistan; a regional awareness program for professionals about the risks of trafficking and a collaboration with the Antiquities Trafficking and Heritage Anthropology Research (ATHAR) Project and Qatar Computing and Research Institute at Hamad Bin Khalifa University, to monitor trafficking activities on social media channels.
Qatar National Library will continue to support the efforts of combating the illegal circulation and trafficking of documentary heritage through initiatives and projects that educate and provide guidance to stakeholders and the public on this important subject, as well as encouraging global entities to work together to protect world history before it is lost.