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UN General Assembly adopts Resolution on "Return or Restitution of Cultural Property to the Countries of Origin"/ Statement by Dr Catherine Boura, Permanent Representative of Greece to the UN (9.12.15)

Thursday, 10 December 2015

70TH SESSION OF THE UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY
Agenda Item 10
“Return or Restitution of Cultural Property to the Countries of Origin”

Statement by
H.E. Ambassador Dr. Catherine Boura
Permanent Representative of Greece to the United Nations

NEW YORK
Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

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Mr. President,

On behalf of the cosponsors, I am pleased to introduce draft Resolution A/70/L.28, entitled “Return or Restitution of Cultural Property to the Countries of Origin”. We hope that today the General Assembly will adopt this important Resolution by consensus, as in previous years.

I would like to thank the Secretary General and the Director General of UNESCO for their comprehensive report on the return or restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin. The report outlines the most significant developments that have taken place during the past three years in the field of return or restitution of cultural property to the countries of provenance.

Three years after the General Assembly adopted Resolution 67/80 entitled “Return or Restitution of Cultural Property to the Countries of Origin”, major developments have occurred, which this draft Resolution aspires to reflect in a thorough and balanced way.

Mr. President,

The issue of return of cultural property to the countries of origin has become particularly timely due to recent international developments: rise of cross border movement of cultural objects, increase of organized crime involving cultural property, money laundering through the antiquities market, as well as selling of stolen cultural objects in auctions.

Shocked and horrified we witness an unprecedented destruction and looting of monuments of worship and cultural property in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. Centuries-old multiethnic and multi-confessional communities see their cultural heritage threatened with extinction by barbaric terrorist acts.

The draft Resolution under consideration today, expresses deep concern about the loss, destruction, theft, pillage, illicit removal or misappropriation of cultural property from archaeological and other sites, in particular in areas of armed conflict, including occupation. It condemns recent attacks to World Cultural Heritage Sites and calls for an immediate end to such acts, reminding Parties to the 1954 Hague Convention and its two Protocols, of their obligations contained therein.

Furthermore, it recognizes the leading role of UNESCO in the fight against destruction and illicit trafficking in cultural property in areas of armed conflict, including its specific mandate within the context of Security Council Resolution 2199 (2015), which highlighted the direct linkage of destruction and pillage of cultural heritage in Iraq and Syria with the financing of terrorism.

As highlighted in the draft Resolution, awareness raising and capacity building are crucial for the success of the efforts undertaken in the context of return or restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin. Interaction with the international art market in view of improving practices in various areas of expertise such as provenance, investigation, ethics and procedures of restitution proves to be of paramount importance. In this respect, the Operational Guidelines adopted in May 2015 by the Meeting of the Parties to the 1970 UNESCO Convention, is a very important tool to guide and assist States in implementing the Convention.

Mr. President,

The international community shares a common responsibility to protect cultural heritage in peace and war. Cultural heritage is not simply a testimony of a nation’s path; it reflects its identity. It is the mirror of a country’s history and the core of its existence. It represents not only specific values and traditions, but the unique way a nation perceives the world. That is the reason why cultural heritage must be protected against any illicit act and must be restored to its historic environment, where it could best inspire the collective conscience of humanity. This is precisely the reason for which the objectives of this resolution should leave no State indifferent.

Thank you Mr. President.

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