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UNESCO Urges UN Resolution to Prevent Trafficking of Iraqi Artifacts - 2003-04-30

At the United Nations on Wednesday UNESCO chief Koichuro Matsuura called for a new Security Council resolution to halt international trafficking of cultural treasures stolen from Iraq. Mr. Matsuura said the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization [UNESCO] urgently needs a Security Council resolution to immediately broaden a 1970 international convention banning trade in cultural artifacts.

"There are countries which are not members of the 1970 convention," he said. "They could [join] voluntarily, of course, responding to my appeal. But I feel we must go beyond that. That is why I feel that if there is a new Security Council resolution, a binding resolution demanding that all countries introduce an embargo on the importation of Iraqi cultural goods, that would be a very important step forward."

Mr. Matsuura said only 97 of UNESCO's 188 members have ratified the 1970 accord.

At a meeting in London on Tuesday, some of the world's top curators said that, three weeks after the fall of Baghdad, antiquities are still being smuggled out of Iraq. Many said that U.S. forces are not doing enough to stop the flow of stolen art and artifacts out of the country.

But Mr. Matsuura said it is unfair to hold the U.S. military in Iraq responsible for the trafficking, and that other nations need to better scrutinize what crosses their borders.

"In my assessment, these well-organized bandits simply took advantage of a power vacuum created after the fall of Saddam's regime," he said. "What is important at the moment is to try and implement what I have been describing. It will not be a very useful exercise to find out who was guilty of what, etc, etc. What is crucial is to mobilize international efforts to protect what remains and recover what has been stolen."

Mr. Matsuura says that an accurate inventory of what is missing is needed urgently, but at least 4,000 items are missing, a mere 40 have been recovered thus far. Stolen items have turned up in places as near to Iraq as Jordan, and as far away as Europe and the United States.

Ancient Mesopotamia, modern-day Iraq, was the cradle of urban civilization, and Iraq's museums held collections from the Assyrian, Sumerian and Babylonian cultures. After the fall of Saddam Hussein's government, looters plundered archaeological treasures from the National Museum in Baghdad and other museums and libraries.