(L-r) Jaime Nualart, Shaaban Abdel-Gawad, and Giuseppe Marseglia at the conference (Photo credit of Mexico embassy)
The conference, titled “International Cooperation on Trafficking and Restitution of Cultural Heritage,” was held at the Italian Cultural Institute (IIC) in Cairo on 10 May.
Illicit trafficking in cultural property constitutes a serious transnational crime affecting countries of origin, transit, and destination. Mexico, Egypt, and Italy, among others, have suffered theft of archaeological objects, hence the importance of promoting cooperation between countries with ancient civilisations.
Conference attendees had the opportunity to listen to prominent Mexican cultural figure and Cultural Secretary of the International Italian-Latin American Organisation (IILA) Jaime Nualart, Lieutenant Colonel Giuseppe Marseglia of the Carabineros Command for the Protection of the Cultural Heritage of Italy (TPC) in Rome, and General Supervisor of the Repatriation Department of the Supreme Council of Antiquities of Egypt Shaaban Abdel-Gawad.
Ambassador of Mexico in Egypt Jose Octavio Tripp, Italian Ambassador in Egypt Michele Quaroni, Ambassador of Argentina to Egypt Eduardo Varela, and their Venezuelan counterpart Wilmer Barrientos, also participated.
Academics, members of the diplomatic corps, students, and the public interested in the subject were also present, as well as international experts who discussed the measures that countries can take in three areas: prevention, restitution, and international cooperation.
Speakers discussed actions to fight the criminal phenomenon that is nowadays organised in a vast global network and the initiatives that countries can take to collaborate on an international level for the recovery of assets and their return to their legitimate owners.
Nualart said the fight against the illicit trade in cultural goods is an ongoing task and requires the commitment of all society and the international community as a whole. “Education at schools and universities and raising awareness of the cultural heritage is very crucial; society has to be well informed that heritage is part of its identity,” Nualart added.
Abdel-Gawad recapitulated not only on the efforts Egypt has made to prevent the theft of its cultural heritage, but also those it deploys internationally to recover artefacts that have been stolen.
Marseglia presented, from an operational approach of the police forces, the investigative work to safeguard and protect national cultural heritage through the prevention and repression of criminal activities, as well as the work of restitution of cultural property that Italy is carrying out.
He explained that the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, a specialised department of Carabinieri, has won important awards in the world thanks to the effectiveness of its actions to safeguard cultural heritage. “The actions implemented by Italy to prevent and fight against violations are today the main reference model in the sector,” he pointed.
Another topic of discussion was the database of illegally removed cultural artefacts, the largest database in the world for this specific sector, a fundamental tool that allows obtaining information on the assets of artefacts of Italian or foreign provenance.
While Ambassador Tripp reaffirmed Mexico's commitment to collaborate at the international level to achieve the restitution of cultural property, as well as to combat the sale and trafficking of Mexican cultural heritage abroad, he highlighted that the processes of restitution and return of Mexican archaeological objects have been significantly intensified.
International agreements relating to the fight against illicit trafficking and the restitution of illegally stolen cultural heritage were also presented at the conference.