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Monday, March 16, 2015

Cultural Property Crime on the U.N. Agenda: Upcoming Crime Conference Set to Tackle Heritage Trafficking

When the U.N. Security Council last month adopted a resolution targeting terrorists' ability to raise money, cultural heritage trafficking took a visible spot on the global stage. Now the U.N. Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice is set to address the topic at its April meeting in Doha, Qatar.

Representatives from Qatar meet with the U.N. Office on Drugs
and Crime in preparation for the Crime Conference in April.
A pre-conference document frames the discussion for next month’s quinquennial gathering of governments and experts in criminal justice. The document cautions, “Trafficking in cultural property and related offences are believed to be a constantly growing sector of criminality, and an increasingly attractive one for national and transnational criminal organizations.”

Conference participants are expected to urge U.N. member states to embrace the International Guidelines for Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Responses with Respect to Trafficking in Cultural Property and Other Related Offences, adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in October 2014.

The preamble offers straightforward explanations about why the Guidelines were written, and articulates some important clauses:
 Alarmed at the growing involvement of organized criminal groups in all forms and aspects of trafficking in cultural property and related offences, and observing that illicitly trafficked cultural property is increasingly being sold through all kinds of markets, inter alia in auctions, in particular over the Internet, and that such property is being unlawfully excavated and illicitly exported or imported with the facilitation of modern and sophisticated technologies,
…  
Reiterating the significance of cultural property as part of the common heritage of humankind and as unique and important testimony of the culture and identity of peoples and the necessity of protecting cultural property, and reaffirming in that regard the need to strengthen international cooperation in preventing, prosecuting and punishing all aspects of trafficking in cultural property[.]

The Guidelines promote prevention strategies, criminal justice policies, and methods of international cooperation to combat cultural heritage crime. They range in scope from “improving statistics on import and export of cultural property” to encouraging “the widest possible mutual legal assistance in investigations, prosecutions and judicial proceedings.”

Of significance is the Guidelines’ call to transform perceptions of heritage crime from a novelty offense to a serious criminal enterprise that demands a strong legal response. They recommend that nations
consider criminalizing, as serious offences, acts such as:(a) Trafficking in cultural property;(b) Illicit export and illicit import of cultural property;(c) Theft of cultural property (or consider elevating the offence of ordinary theft to a serious offence when it involves cultural property);(d) Looting of archaeological and cultural sites and/or illicit excavation;(e) Conspiracy or participation in an organized criminal group for trafficking in cultural property and related offences;(f) Laundering, as referred to in article 6 of the Organized Crime Convention, of trafficked cultural property.

The U.N. Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime characterizes a “serious offence” as a crime that is punishable by at least four years in prison.

Further updates about the upcoming U.N. Crime Congress may be found here.

Photo credit: United Nations

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