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G-7 Conference of Ministers of Culture

Florence , 

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I would like to thank the Italian authorities for the invitation to present the Council of Europe’s new Convention on Cultural Trafficking.

Or, as it is becoming better know, our “Blood Antiquities Convention”. We all know about the trade in blood diamonds, which has funded military insurgencies and civil conflicts, particularly in Africa. Recent years have seen a sharp rise in the trade in stolen antiquities to fund terrorism, particularly in Syria and Iraq.

The Council of Europe – set up after the Second World War as the guardian of the European Convention on Human Rights – has a long history in strengthening the international legal protections for heritage, architectural and archaeological. 

Our core business is setting standards in criminal law – our Conventions – which we monitor and help our 47 members implement.

We also have a long history in strengthening Europe’s legal protections against terrorists. And the new Convention aims to do both things: protecting the precious heritage that is central to our shared humanity; while denying terrorists like Daesh funds which pay for their murderous campaigns.

 

Right now, what they don’t destroy, they transport to Europe, North America, Asia and elsewhere to sell to the highest bidder. They benefit from the many inconsistencies which exist between the national legislative frameworks meant to prevent this activity; from laws which are weakly enforced; from insufficient international co-operation. Our new Treaty aims to address these problems.

The Blood Antiquities Convention will be the missing piece of the international jigsaw. As a criminal law convention, it completes the international framework against cultural trafficking established by the previous conventions from UNESCO and UNIDROIT – to whom we are all greatly indebted.

 

Under it, states will commit to criminalising the web of acts enabling cultural trafficking, closing an array of loopholes and empowering national law enforcement to go after the range of individuals responsible – from looters, to traffickers, to end-of-chain art sellers and, where reasonable, buyers too.

Bringing more countries up to the same legal standards will vastly improve the opportunities for cross-border co-operation.

The treaty will be open to states outside of Europe.

And not only will it protect cultural property within states which have ratified.

It will cover the cultural property of any state which is party to UNESCO’s 1970 Convention.

 Countries such as Syria and Libya, for example, are unlikely to join the Convention in the very near future, but their heritage needs protecting now.

Our governments are expected to adopt the text on May 19.

Our aim is to make this a truly global instrument. And for that, of course, we need the G7’s active support.