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Cyprus ‘particularly sensitive to preservation of cultural heritage’

Foreign Minister Nicos Christodoulides

Cyprus is particularly sensitive to the need to protect cultural heritage from destruction or damage and to combat the illicit trafficking in this area, Foreign Minister Nicos Christodoulides said on Friday.

The minister was speaking at a conference on the Council of Europe’s Convention on offences relating to cultural property titled ‘Act for Heritage!’.

“The ongoing Turkish military occupation of the northern part of Cyprus has caused severe damage to movable cultural objects, monuments and archaeological sites,” Christodoulides said his address to around 150 delegates. “Our competent authorities frequently engage in efforts to repatriate stolen cultural objects from abroad and through these efforts have gained unique practical expertise in this domain,” he added.

Christodoulides said that with a view to utilising its national experience to strengthen international efforts to protect cultural heritage globally, Cyprus has “a longstanding commitment to participate in the initiatives promoting the protection of cultural heritage in the Council of Europe, the European Union, the United Nations and other international fora.”

Referring to the Nicosia Convention he said he considers it “our most important initiative and contribution in this context.”

The Nicosia Convention is a treaty adopted on May 19, 2017 and was the first international legal instrument dealing with the criminalisation of the illicit trafficking of cultural property. To date, it has been signed by Armenia, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Montenegro, Portugal, Russia, San Marino, Slovenia, Ukraine and Mexico. It has been ratified by Cyprus and Mexico. The Convention will enter into force once a total of five states ratify it, including at least three members of the Council of Europe.

The Council of Europe’s Deputy Secretary-General Gabriella Battaini–Dragoni in an opening address to the conference on Friday, which was delivered on her behalf by Matjaz Gruden, Director of Democratic Participation of the CoE noted that the Nicosia Convention “breaks new ground” as a criminal law instrument which contributes to a coherent international legal regime by which to harmonise domestic legislation cultural property criminal offences and sets minimum standards of protection that state parties must meet “creating an effective punitive dimension at the international level.”

She referred to a joint action between the Spanish Civil Guard, Europol, Interpol and the World Customs Organisation which resulted earlier this year in the seizure of 18,000 items and the arrest of 59 people. This, Battaini–Dragoni pointed out, “was undoubtedly a positive outcome but its success in fact signposts the need to go further.” Because, she added, “the hard reality is that too few of these offences are reported, revealed and prosecuted.”

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