As part of Cyprus’s Chairmanship of the Council of Europe, the country’s Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides spoke at an event in Westminster on 16 March on ‘Strengthening international capacities for the protection of cultural property and for preventing the illicit trafficking of cultural goods.’
Hosted by the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Crispin Blunt MP, Mr Kasoulides was guest speaker, along with British archaeologist and Conservative peer Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn. The talk was part of the Minister’s Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. Arranged by Cyprus High Commissioner Euripides Evriviades, the event took place in Portcullis House and was well attended by Ministers, members of the House of Lords and Heads of Mission.
Following a surge on attacks against monuments of global historical and cultural significance, the event focused on the need to enhance international cooperation to tackle illicit trafficking of cultural goods. In Iraq and Syria, Daesh terrorists have systematically plundered the region’s cultural heritage, deliberately destroying important archaeological sites and profiting from the illicit trade of valuable excavated artefacts. Crispin Blunt described these acts as “damage to the cultural heritage of mankind.” Lord Renfew highlighted that the destruction of cultural heritage is not new, and something that the Greeks called “iconoclasm.”
Governments around the globe have been discussing ways to mitigate this phenomena, and promote the protection of cultural property from armed conflict areas by ratifying the relevant 1954 Hague Convention. In March 2016, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe decided to prepare a new Convention on Offences Relating to Cultural Property. This convention will become the only international treaty focusing on criminal measures and sanctions on illicit activities – such as the destruction and trafficking of cultural goods, while also providing a complete set of measures to foster international cooperation between states to better prevent and combat the illicit trafficking and the deliberate destruction of cultural property.
Lord Renfrew praised the “important new convention being brought forward under the Cyprus Chairmanship.” He continued: “I congratulate Cyprus and the Foreign Ministry for coming here to promote this.” Speakers were in collective agreement that the issue requires international cooperation, with a collective and unified response.