Museum Security Network

Luxor, Egypt: Efforts insufficient in curbing heritage trafficking

Efforts insufficient in curbing heritage trafficking

Updated: 2010-10-04 10:02

LUXOR – The international efforts in cracking down on heritage relic trafficking are “radically insufficient” and much more is needed to control the worsening situation, said a senior UNESCO official here on Sunday.

“There has not been enough attention from the world governments for the trafficking of cultural heritage properties,” said Francesco Bandarin, director of the World Heritage Center, in an exclusive interview with Xinhua.
The trafficking situation is worse and worse and that the ” market is completely out of control,” Bandarin told Xinhua on the sidelines of a two-day seminar on the protection of the New Gourna village, which was built in late 1940s inside the famous Ancient Thebes world heritage site area, in Luxor Governorate, south Egypt.

“We (governments all over the world) are doing too little and need much more efforts,” said Bandarin, also assistant director- general for culture of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

He said the UNESCO, with legal authority on this matter, has the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property in 1970.

Action should be enacted by police. “We are cooperating with the Interpol (International Criminal Police Organization), and the local and international police to intercept the things and train people in different states, especially the developing countries so that they can prevent trafficking,” Bandarin said.

Talking about the theft of Van Gogh’s famous painting, the ” Poppy Flower,” from the Mahmoud Khalil Museum in Cairo in August, the UNESCO cultural official said he had heard of this case and stressed that a lesson should be learned on how to better protect heritage in museums.

In August, the World Heritage Committee inscribed 21 new sites, including 15 cultural, five natural and one mixed properties, making a total of 911 sites on the World Heritage List. However, some famous world heritage sites have been troubled by booming tourism.

A balance should be made between the development of tourism and protection of heritage sites, said Bandarin. “If you leave it to the forces of the market, of course, you will have a disaster.”

Regulation can make tourists a resource, not a threat to heritage sites, he added. Proper management and willingness are required to achieve this, said Bandarin, citing some good examples of adopting booking systems to control the number of tourists according to the capacities.

Civil society also has an important role in protecting heritage, Bandarin said.

“In fact, I don’t think heritage should be protected from the top. Rather, it should be protected from the bottom or the grassroots,” Bandarin said.”The civil society and population should play a fundamental and primary role in protecting heritage and the government can help.”

Bandarin also warned that the change of climatic conditions is “something to be worried about, to watch and to prepare” in heritage protection.

As a global phenomenon, climate change is a process that has to do with many impacts not only on natural heritage such as glaciers but also cultural heritage, he said. For example, the increase of sea levels will affect coastal cities.

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