On 30 November 2018, the WCO published its Training Handbook on the Prevention of Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Heritage (PITCH). It is a unique specialized tool, aimed at improving the knowledge and know-how of Customs officers deployed in the field, 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 organizations, ‘’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 harmonized approach, and coordinate their actions.
The WCO started conducting training on this subject in 2017, beginning with countries in the North of Africa, Near and Middle East region that met in Beirut, Lebanon, and with members of the Container Control Programme’s Port Control Units, who met in Amman, Jordan. PITCH Training for the Customs administrations of West and Central Africa is planned for December 2018.
‘’I am delighted that the WCO has been able to step up its game and respond to this global threat in a very efficient and concrete manner, by providing operational support and training to its Members. While we have done a great deal on the awareness-raising front, what really makes the difference is practical application on the ground – and this is what we aim to do through PITCH training. The Handbook is our tangible contribution to implementing UN SC Resolution 2347/2017, as well as the WCO Council Resolution of 2016, and we hope that it will be used to improve the operational reality of our Member Customs administrations’’, said Dr. Kunio Mikuriya, WCO Secretary General.
The PITCH Handbook (access to which is restricted to WCO Members only, due to its sensitive content) is currently available in English and French. Translations into other languages, such as Arabic, Russian and Spanish, are under way and will be available soon.
The WCO would like to thank all those who have supported and provided input into developing the training modules underpinning the PITCH Handbook, namely : the French Customs Administration, United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP), United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Dutch Ministry of Culture, Helicon Conservation Support, the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, the French Embassy to Libya, INTERPOL and the UNESCO Regional Office in Beirut (Lebanon).
Donors interested in supporting the delivery of PITCH training are encouraged to contact the WCO. 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.