I am currently attending the Second Conference on International Cooperation for the Protection and Repatriation of Cultural Heritage in the beautiful city of Lima, Peru.
This conference continues the work begun at the Cairo Conference in April 2010. It is an opportunity for countries to exchange ideas and experiences about how to protect remains of the past for future generations, prevent looting and theft and demand that illegally exported objects belonging to our cultural heritage be returned to its rightful home.
Peru is a well-timed location. One hundred years ago, a young American archaeologist, Hiram Bingham, discovered the lost Inca site of Machu Picchu, now one of the most famous monuments in the world. He took all the artifacts he found back to Yale University, where they remained for almost a century. This year, I am very happy to say, they have all been returned to their rightful owners, the people of Peru. I am proud to have witnessed this success story and proud that Egypt was able to help.
It is a tragic loss when artifacts are stolen and fall into the hands of thieves, antiquities dealers, private collectors and even museums. We lose not only vital information about the past with the loss of an artifact, but also a part of our national identity.
In my role as Minister of State for Antiquities I have always prioritized the return of stolen antiquities and the prevention of future losses. Over the course of nine years we have been able to return some 5,000 stolen artifacts. This is a great achievement and we will continue with our hard work.
In Egypt we have:
Established a specialized department to monitor auction sites and follow up on reports of illegally obtained objects. But this relies on international communication and cooperation between individuals, law enforcement agencies and governments. U.S Homeland Security Investigations recently helped the Egyptian government recover part of a collection of prehistoric vessels stolen from Egyptian excavations near Cairo, and an ancient coffin that a dealer was attempting to smuggle into the US through the port of Miami.
Signed bilateral agreements with 19 countries and we are working on a Memorandum of Understanding with the United States Department of Homeland Security. Real results come from collaboration.
Upgraded antiquities storage magazines all over Egypt. For almost a decade we have replaced outdated and poorly protected facilities with high-security buildings, protected by well-trained MSA employees.
Trained police and border officials to stop theft and the exportation of illicit antiquities.
Built databases of information and photographs to keep track of our cultural heritage. If we have comprehensive inventories of all artifacts and if we keep a careful eye on the movement of antiquities, we can then work with international organizations such as Interpol to locate stolen artifacts.
Enforced strong antiquities laws. Egypt has done this for decades and last year I was able to have a new law enacted that strengthened punishments for antiquities trafficking.
Realized the importance of education. It is important to educate people about the value of history. I was so proud of the young people of Cairo who joined hands to form a protective human barrier around the Egyptian Museum during the revolution. Also the brave people of Luxor’s West Bank who protected the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings from looters.
Protecting heritage is important, but it is not simply a matter of law and administration. It is the pride of a nation and offering hope and inspiration to future generations. I am so pleased this conference in Peru is taking place, and I would like to see a permanent committee established to plan future conferences.
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