On 30 November the World Customs Organisation (WCO) published its “Training Handbook on the Prevention of Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Heritage (PITCH)”, a unique specialised tool, aimed at improving the knowledge and know-how of Customs officers and goes hand in hand with a training programme.
The catastrophic events affecting - and continuing to affect - the North of Africa, Near and Middle East and the West and Central Africa regions, besides causing great suffering and loss of life, have had dire consequences on major cultural heritage sites. Trafficking of cultural objects has gained the attention of senior policy makers and law enforcement officers around the world, particularly due to its links with money laundering and terrorist financing. Growing political awareness of this illicit trade has led to the adoption by the United Nations Security Council of specific Resolutions addressing this problem, including UN SC Resolutions 2199/2015 and 2253/2015. Similarly, at its annual Council Sessions in July 2016, the WCO Council (then representing 180 Customs administrations) unanimously adopted a Resolution on the Prevention of Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Objects, which calls for greater vigilance and commitment in preventing this type of trafficking.
WCO Members agreed to strengthen their efforts to address this issue, but also asked for the development of specific tools to help them do so. That sentiment is echoed in UN SC Resolution 2347/2017, which calls for the WCO, along with other partner organisations, “as appropriate and within their existing mandates, to assist Member States in their efforts to prevent and counter destruction and looting of and trafficking in cultural property in all forms.”
The WCO will only deliver the handbook to members through the deployment of face-to-face training which can be tailored to the needs of every region, thanks to the gap analysis workshops conducted prior to the deployment of the tool. The PITCH training programme focuses on Customs techniques, but also includes modules delivered by experts from the museum community, academia, Ministries of Culture and the Police, with the objective to ensure that all those involved in countering illicit trafficking in cultural objects adopt a consistent and harmoniised approach, and coordinate their actions.
Donors interested in supporting the delivery of PITCH training should contact the WCO. The WCO envisages that the global deployment of the methods and know-how in the PITCH Handbook will lead to a unified and more efficient Customs response to trafficking in cultural objects.