Speech by His Excellency Dr. Hamad Bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari, Minister of State, Qatar and President of Qatar National Library

Welcome to Qatar National Library’s webinar on the vital issue of antiquities trafficking in the Middle East and North Africa, and the region’s surrounding countries.

 

For centuries, the Arab and Middle East region has been a melting pot of civilizations which have produced many artifacts with historical, spiritual and aesthetic values, not to mention the pride and respect of their owners and custodians.

 

For many years, the trafficking and smuggling of antiquities has been rising. It is certainly not a new phenomenon. In the MENA and West and Central Africa region, trafficking of such items is greater due to the number suffering of conflict and insecurity – notably in countries such as Chad, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Niger, Syria, Sudan and Yemen. It may often be linked to the activities of criminal and terrorist groups, who use it as a means to increase their income and launder money.

 

Trafficking of such items is a robbery of the rights of peoples, a falsification of the history of nations and a removal of their heritage and identity. While criminals make significant profits from this illicit trafficking, humankind is denied access to archaeological information and to artefacts of its shared heritage. It is vital the international community acts to correct and restore rights to the owners. We believe that educated people everywhere in the world have an ethical role towards this issue, and I hope that this seminar will play a part in shedding further light on the trafficking of antiquities and in contributing to the scientific and equitable solution of the topic.

 

Social media is also a growing medium of illicit sales. Facebook and other social networks have facilitated illicit trade in antiquities from across the Middle East and North Africa. Facebook’s “Groups” feature, for example, provides a seamless environment for digital interactions and cross-border networking between users interested in buying and selling antiquities, allowing them to communicate efficiently and discretely.

 

The various international organizations in charge of countering the trafficking of artifacts have tended to focus on the illegal circulation of archaeological and artistic items. However, more also needs to be done with respect to documentary heritage, which is even more at risk because it is less protected by national legislation and is easier to move illegally.

 

This leads us to the Himaya Project – a practical taskforce suggested by library professionals to support the efforts to counter the trafficking and illegal circulation of documentary heritage.

 

Qatar National Library and the IFLA Preservation and Conservation (PAC) Center for Arab Countries and the Middle East will cooperate and partner with various organizations to counter the trafficking of manuscripts, books and archives in the MENA region. Our shared goal is only achieved with international awareness of the seriousness of heritage trafficking, and the availability of a supportive international legislation.

 

Professionals at libraries such as Qatar National Library are not law enforcement services, but thanks to the good relations they have fostered with police, customs and other law enforcement agencies, as well as other educational institutions, we can work together to crack down on illicit trafficking of cultural artifacts. Better control of trafficking of antiquities over the long term will require more countries to become parties to international agreements on the acceptable methods of handling and exchanging these items.

 

Also vital is the role of the United Nations, in particular its specialized organizations such as UNESCO; the role of regional organizations such as the African Union, the Organization of Latin States. And most importantly, the role of intellectuals everywhere in highlighting this phenomenon to everyone is paramount – cultural property is part of the common heritage of mankind, and it is in everyone’s interests that we develop a framework to preserve cultural heritage in our region and further afield.

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