Latin America / Institutional cooperation

International legal cooperation is key to the fight against trafficking in cultural property

25 May 2021
Arqueólogo

More than 300 people participated in the online seminar “Trafficking in cultural property: the business of organised crime” promoted by EL PAcCTO to discuss and study the relationship between this type of crime and criminal organisations.

Walter Alva, the Peruvian archaeologist in charge of the Royal Tombs of Sipán Museum,  said in his address that “collecting ancient works of art furthers the destruction of  human history.” He also talked about the history of looting in Peru and explained the structure of this illegal activity, which involves “a chain that flows from the looters to collectors abroad, passing through local and international traffickers.”

The renowned archaeologist proposed developing international awareness raising campaigns to draw attention to this type of crime, which is threatening the historical heritage of all countries.

International cooperation to protect property 

Martina González Antolín, from the Spanish National Police Corps, emphasised the need for civil society take part in the task of protecting cultural heritage and explained that a basic aspect of UNIDROIT legislation is restitution of stolen and illegally exported cultural property. “Great works are sold in the most prestigious auction houses with headquarters in different countries,” and “this can lead to money laundering,” she said.

Lina Nagel, representing the Ministry of Culture of Chile, shared information about Chile’s Draft Law on Cultural Heritage, which will include provisions on smuggling and damage to protected cultural heritage, as well as an inventory of Chilean cultural heritage.

She also mentioned the importance of continental alliances such as Mercosur, the Andean Community and the 1970 Unesco Convention in the Latin American and Caribbean Group GRULAC, for regional integration of the protection and defence of cultural heritage. She concluded by recommending that countries commit to a joint effort by the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage and the organisations involved.

During her speech, Marina Schneider from UNIDROIT talked about international instruments for restitution of cultural property. “Countries are duty bound to protect their own cultural heritage,” she said, stressing that illegal traffic in cultural property is an international problem and that international cooperation “is an effective way to protect property”. 

The representative of UNIDROIT said that there are numerous instruments for addressing trafficking, such as international conventions, regional instruments, bilateral agreements, UN Security Council resolutions and alternative conflict resolution mechanisms that have a role in restitution of cultural assets.

Huaca Rajada y las Tumbas Reales del Señor de Sipan.
Huaca Rajada y las Tumbas Reales del Señor de Sipan.

Trafficking in cultural property: a transnational crime 

Paolo Pellegrino from Interpol’s Artworks Unit acknowledged that “the member countries’ database contains records of more than 50,000 heritage objects stolen from 134 countries, which have not yet been recovered.” Interpol presented the first mobile application that will give access to the more than 50,000 stolen objects for speedy identification and recovery.

José de la Mata, Spain’s national member in Eurojust, pointed out that “the illegal trafficking in cultural property is a transnational crime, so international cooperation between the police, tax and judicial authorities is necessary to be able to punish those responsible and recover stolen assets.”

A guide on the fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural property by Valeria Calaza of the Attorney General’s Office of the Republic of Argentina and published by EL PAcCTO was presented at the event. Ms Calaza said that the publication aimed “to explain the regulations that protect cultural heritage” in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru.