The Culture Working Group (CWG) under India’s G20 Presidency in association with UNESCO as the Knowledge Partner organized the global thematic webinar on, “Protection and Restitution of Cultural Property”.
Govind Mohan, Secretary, Ministry of Culture and Chair, CWG in his opening remarks at the inaugural global thematic webinar suggested , “…Illicit trafficking, which may be driven in part by poverty and greed, is primarily exacerbated by poor education and a lack of awareness. Regardless of the cause, illicit trafficking diminishes the collective memory of people and communities, weakens their sense of identity, and undermines the exercise of their cultural rights.”
The webinar witnessed fruitful discussions and sharing of best practices on the long-standing issue of illicit trafficking and restitution of cultural property, bringing together 40 experts from 28 countries including G20 members and guest nations, as well as 12 international organizations.
During the webinar, it was emphasized that there is a crucial need to improve the inventorying, documentation, risk management, and emergency planning processes to prevent illicit trafficking. Furthermore, it was highlighted that promoting an ethical art market, conducting provenance research, and ensuring transparency, particularly in the G20 members with the biggest art markets, is of utmost importance. The challenges posed by online trading were also discussed, and the urgent need to strengthen regulations of the online trade of cultural property to curb illicit trafficking was suggested.
Many countries shared examples of recent processes of restitution of cultural property, reflecting notably progress towards ethical collection management, while also highlighting a growing attention of the general public. Some speakers shared specific good practices in that regard, including the creation of a dedicated national committee for the return and repatriation of cultural property.
Several recommendations were formulated to the attention of the G20 membership, including the creation of national institutes of provenance research or the creation of exchange platforms to share examples of cooperation on the return and restitution of cultural property.
A consolidated report of the four global thematic webinars will be produced and shared with G20 members, guest nations and international organizations at the third CWG meeting due in Hampi, Karnataka from 15 July to 18 July 2023. The aim of this report is to be a legacy of the joint work, deliberations, and discussions of the CWG process, with a view to ensure knowledge building over time. The following global thematic webinars on priority two, three and four are scheduled for 13th, 19th and 20th April respectively.
The webinar is first in the series of four Global Thematic Webinars in March and April 2023. These webinars aim to foster an inclusive dialogue and facilitate an in-depth discussion from an expert driven perspective on the four priority areas articulated by the CWG.
In recent years, the issue of the return and restitution of illegally obtained cultural property has gained global attention. Unethical appropriation of artefacts and the threats associated with online trading of cultural property have exacerbated the problem. This renewed focus is also driven by increasing awareness of the historical injustices that have led to the displacement of countless antiquities, particularly from nations in the Global South. The call for the return and restitution of antiquities to their countries of origin are rooted in the desire to reclaim the stories, histories, and identities, carved over centuries and forming the multi-layered wealth of cultural heritage, that have been disrupted or obscured by the unethical appropriation of cultural property.
The issue of illicit trafficking of cultural property remains a key global concern. Limited public awareness and inadequate databases make identifying and tracking stolen objects difficult. The global thematic webinar on priority one of the CWG furthered the dialogue on protection and restitution of cultural property as a part of the call for the return and restoration of cultural heritage that thread the shared identity of the global community.
The webinar had three speaking segments and the interventions by experts were distributed across these segments based on their respective time zone. The webinar was moderated successively by representatives of UNESCO, INTERPOL, and UNIDROIT with expertise on the topic. It was live streamed on the YouTube channel of UNESCO.
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