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Italy’s Commitment to Combating Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Property in the OSCE Area

As part of Italy’s traditional commitment at international level to protecting cultural heritage and combating illicit trafficking in cultural property, Italy has played a leading role in promoting and strengthening the OSCE’s action and role in this area.

Starting in 2017, in its capacity as Chair of the Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation Group, and namely during the Italian Chairmanship of the OSCE in 2018, Italy has been instrumental in stimulating discussion within the OSCE on protecting cultural heritage and countering illicit trafficking in cultural property.

In particular, Italy has promoted and strongly supports an OSCE extra-budgetary project aimed at strengthening the capacities of border agents, law enforcement agencies and other governmental institutions in countering cross-border illicit trafficking in cultural property, including through a greater understanding of the relationship between illicit trafficking in cultural property, organized crime and terrorism.

During the first phase of the project, in the period 2017-2021, the OSCE Transnational Threats Department – Border Security and Management Unit (TNTD) organized 4 seminars (including one at the CoESPU Headquarters in Vicenza) and 11 training workshops dedicated to police and border agents from over 30 participating States and Partners for Cooperation. An online platform was also set up to facilitate communication between experts and resource sharing on the protection of cultural goods and the fight against their illicit trafficking.

With the aim of continuing and expanding the OSCE’s work in this area, the second phase of the project, also supported by Italy, was launched in 2022.

The new work programme has three main components:

  • organization of an annual meeting of experts dedicated to the topic of illicit trafficking in cultural property, including the development of thematic action plans on an annual basis;
  • training courses for strengthening the investigative, risk assessment and counter-trafficking capacities of national agencies;
  • strengthening inter-agency cooperation (both national and international level) and information sharing, including through the mapping of trafficking routes and the institutionalization of the existing pool of experts for technical assistance and rapid response activities (‘mobile assessment team’).

Other initiatives promoted by Italy within the OSCE on the theme of combating the illicit trafficking of cultural goods include the exhibition on “Recovered Treasures”, organised in 2018 by the Permanent Representation to the OSCE in collaboration with the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

In November 2021, the topic of combating trafficking and protecting cultural heritage in the Mediterranean region was discussed during a meeting of the OSCE Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation Group. Among the speakers, Prof. Serena Giusti, from the Scuola Universitaria Superiore Sant’Anna in Pisa, illustrated the most recent developments at international level in the protection of cultural heritage.