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Technical meeting on the ratification of the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention

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21 June 2019
Technical meeting on the ratification of the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention
On 21-22 June 2019, UNESCO Beirut organized a first technical meeting at the Directorate General of Antiquities offices (DGA) in Beirut to discuss the practical measures to fight the illicit trafficking of cultural property and debate constructively on the benefits of ratifying the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention.
In 1992, Lebanon ratified the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. However, Lebanon did not ratify yet the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects. Through this convention, States commit to a uniform treatment for restitution of stolen or illegally exported cultural objects and allow restitution claims to be processed directly through national courts. Moreover, the UNIDROIT Convention covers all stolen cultural objects, not only inventoried and declared ones, and stipulates that all cultural property must be returned.

This workshop aimed at undertaking the initial assessment of the related national cultural heritage laws and the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention, and proposing recommendations to facilitate the accession of the UNIDROIT convention by the local counterparts in Lebanon. For this reason, the workshop brought together local and international experts, as well as the Director-General of Antiquities Mr Sarkis el-Khoury, representatives of national authorities working on the protection of cultural heritage, and the UNESCO team. 

In his welcome note, UNESCO Beirut’s Programme Specialist for Culture, Engineer Joseph Kreidi highlighted the importance of raising awareness on the value of cultural heritage, and protecting human heritage and cultural property. Mr.Kreidi said: “Being a complementary instrument to the 1970 Convention, Lebanon is encouraged to ratify the UNIDROIT Convention in order to be able to restitute its stolen objects lost during the long years of the civil war. For this aim, it is of paramount importance that the local legal and administrative authorities are aware of the importance and benefits of ratifying this convention.”

Expert Rihda Fraoua explained the importance of letting authorities know the importance of the Unidroit convention. He said: “The idea behind this workshop is to show the Lebanese authorities the importance of ratifying a convention that proposes ways to obtain the restitution of stolen cultural property.” He also explained: “Lebanon is a member of the UNESCO Convention of 1970, which provides for the return of cultural property, but only if it has been stolen from a museum or public institution and whose property has been properly inventoried.”

In her turn, expert Marina Schneider from UNIDROIT highlighted the purpose of this meeting: “We need to explore whether there is any incompatibility between the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention and the Lebanese legislation, and we want to see if Lebanon adheres to the UNIDROIT Convention, how could it benefit from the protection measures provided by this Convention.”

As to Mrs Suzy Hakimian, President of ICOM-Lebanon chapter, she spoke about the importance of legislations in the protection of culture, “I wish there was everyday a workshop that highlights the legal aspect of heritage protection. The law means protection and without a law, we cannot protect our heritage. It is also important that people know about the importance of heritage protection.”

This meeting provided an opportunity for participants to share experiences, discuss the main challenges in fighting the illicit traffic in cultural property, and explore ways to coordinate efforts.