Heritage trafficking crime has become a major problem not only for Ethiopia but also other countries around the globe. Close to worth 60 billion USD heritage traffic crimes has been reported before two years worldwide.
Preventing heritage trafficking is one of the major missions given to the Ethiopian Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage. Therefore, focusing on control activities in border areas and the airline, it has been exerting efforts in this task in collaboration with the Customs Authority beginning from 1997 EC. Trainings are also given for heritage protection officers, air ports, customs, hotels, tour agents, security forces and other stakeholders. As a result, close to 100 codices were under controlled by the Federal police from traffickers and handed over to the Authority. The criminals are currently on legal sentence. A guide book, which has listed heritages that would not be purchased and are not allowed to be taken out of the country, was also published by the Authority.
“We are intensifying effort on preventing or protecting heritages from trafficking,” said Desalegn Abebaw Cultural Heritage Inventory, Inspection and Standardization Director at the Authority.
On the other hand, the restitution of heritages that have been looted in different times and situations have been the major issue of concern that the Authority has been dealing with for years. But there are several challenges slowing down the efforts and the process.
“When we see the reality, most Heritages of Africa have been looted during the colonial periods. The international convention of 1972, focuses on the issues of heritages stolen or trafficked after the convention was made. That means the issues of heritages stolen or taken from their original places to other countries before 1972 are not to be dealt with the terms of the convention” noted Dessalegn.
In terms of restituting heritages that has been taken (looted)from Mekdela of Ethiopia, during the British envision in Emperor Tewodros’s regime, higher officials including Emperor Yohannes and other group of individuals and scholars as well as the authority have been conducting several researches (studies) and making official requests for the British government. As a result, some heritages have been restituted, he said.
But most of all, the restitution of Axsum Obelisk was the result of great diplomatic efforts and it is one of the successful operations that has shown promises for the restitution of other heritages. There are also heritages returned by countries that have possessed the looted heritages but the procedure has been depending on the generosity or willingness of these nations. Thus, Including the efforts of highly concerned citizens initiatives like the Association For the Return of Mekdela Ethiopian Treasures (AFROMET), diplomatic procedures are the options that have been undertaken.
Tesfaye Arage Senior Heritage Researcher said Heritages could be moved out of a country in different ways, but mostly in three ways, they could be stolen or smuggled by traffickers, could be robbed in the times of war, they could be presented as gifts.
After the United Nations was established and the Treaty of Geneva was signed countries have made agreements not to destroy heritages during war and to return heritages that has been taken illegally for the rightful Nation, according to him.
Different conventions have been signed including the one made during The General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization meeting in Paris from 17 October to 21 November 1972, at its seventeenth session. However, the conventions are not strict in ensuring the restitution of heritages that are taken during colonial periods and before, said Tesfaye.
But that does not mean that there are no heritages returned to their origins at all. Even individuals are returning looted heritages voluntarily. For instance, two daughters of General Napier have come to Ethiopia and returned different heritages, which were taken from Mekdala, to the IS Ethiopian Studies of Addis Ababa University. The task is more of negotiating.
Somehow, if the problem of heritage trafficking is not tackled and more heritages are being stolen, the restitution may lose its value. Therefore, both protection and restitution activities need more organized effort between governmental and nongovernmental institutions, as well as the public. The greater damage would be caused if the public is not aware of its own heritages and how to protect them. Thus, efforts are crucial in terms of awareness raising. The authority is putting effort on identifying and giving codes with lists for Ethiopian heritages, which are in the hands of foreign governments and individuals. So far 3058 are confirmed to be kept in governmental institutions and some 363 in the hands of individuals in France, Italy, Germany, England, Israel, Vatican, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Holland, Sweden Switzerland and USA, according to Tesfaye. There are many more which are not discovered yet.
BY HENOK TIBEBU