News and events

ICOM and the Blue Shield take action in North Africa

6 April 2011

Several movements for democratic change have taken place over the past few months in the region of North Africa. Some of the resulting events or conflict situations, in particular in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, have had a serious impact on the region's rich cultural heritage. Both ICOM and the Blue Shield have expressed their concern and emphasised the need to safeguard the invaluable cultural heritage in this region amidst existing turmoil. Vandalism, looting and resulting illicit trafficking in cultural objects are all major points of concern.

As soon as these events unfolded, ICOM and the Blue Shield immediately took measures to assess the extent of the damage to museums in the area in order to ensure appropriate action.

In the case of Tunisia, ICOM has been in close contact with the museum community in the region, who have confirmed that inventories and investigations are underway as to the origin of artefacts reported to have been found in houses of members of the entourage of the regime, and that have been returned. Museums in the country have incurred no physical damage.

In order to protect Egypt's significant historical treasures, ICOM has collaborated closely with its Disaster Relief Task Force and its International Committee on Egyptology (CIPEG) to collect, analyse and disseminate information on this worrying situation for the country's cultural heritage. ICOM is grateful for this fruitful cooperation, which made it possible to quickly assess the conditions and inform its network accordingly. In addition, the member organisations of the Blue Shield are currently liaising with Egyptian colleagues to obtain further information on potential needs so as to mobilise their networks in an effective manner. From 12 to 16 February, 2011, Blue Shield delegates travelled to Egypt in order to carry out an initial assessment of possible damage to cultural heritage, and in the week beginning 21 March, representatives of UNESCO and of ICOM travelled to the country on an official mission to meet with new members of government and assess the situation of museums and archaeological sites.

Following active encouragement by ICOM, the Cairo Museum published an official list of missing or damaged objects on 15 March, 2011, available on the following website: http://www.sca-egypt.org. Thieves were since tracked down by the Egyptian Antiquities police in co-operation with the Armed Forces, which resulted in the recovery of 17 objects stolen from the Cairo Museum.

The information received over the past couple of months has confirmed the need for ICOM to immediately prepare an Emergency Red List of Egyptian Cultural Objects at Risk.

Amidst ongoing unrest in Libya, ICOM and the Blue Shield are assessing the potential damage and losses in cultural property. In an official statement on the Libyan situation, the Blue Shield called on all parties involved to respect the stipulations of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its Second Protocol. By mobilising its resources in the face of these unsettling events, ICOM is reiterating its commitment to preserving and protecting the world's cultural heritage.

ICOM General Secretariat