UNESCO's Director General Irina Bokova and Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty inaugurated today The Cultural Property Under Threat (CPUT) conference.
The conference is an attempt to raise awareness throughout the world in an attempt to safeguard cultural heritage in the Middle East and to debate the measures to fight cultural racketeering.
It also aims to raise awareness about and find specific solutions to stop the looting of antiquities and terrorist financing.
During the two-day conference, several discussions will take place between UNESCO, governments, NGO's and the private sector that can either individually or collectively protect the common cultural heritage.
The CPUT is organised under the patronage of UNESCO by the Antiquities Coalition and the Middle East Institute, in cooperation with Egypt's ministry of antiquities and foreign affairs.
During the opening session Eldamty called for the amendment of the UNESCO Convention of 1970 that stipulates the return of all looted and illegally smuggled antiquities after 1970 to its homeland.
Eldamaty wants the amendment to include antiquities that were looted and smuggled before 1970. He said that 15 countries attended the conference. Ten of them were from Arab countries, including Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E and Oman.
Irina Bokova highlighted Egypt's responsibility and efforts to return back its looted and smuggled artefacts. "Egypt has succeeded in proving to the whole world its capability to protect its cultural heritage. An example of this is when the public made a human chain to protect the Egyptian Museum at Tahrir Square on 28 January 2011.
She also sent her gratitude to Egypt for organising and hosting the conference at such a critical time when destruction and looting of antiquities has reached an unprecedented level.
Bokova also asserted that UNESCO played a major role in the 1960's to salvage Nubian temples. She added that it is important to have the same cooperation between Egyptian NGOs and the private sector to protect the Middle East's cultural property and human heritage from looting and destruction, such as in Iraq and Syria currently.
"We need full cooperation between security and concerned antiquities authorities, as well as to work on the regional and international levels in order to solve such problems," Bokova asserted.
Hamdi Loza, Egypt's assistant of the minister of foreign affairs for Africa announced that during the last three weeks, Egypt succeeded in returning back 5000 artefacts from the United States, France and a number of other countries.
He also pointed out that negotiation is underway to return other artefacts from the United Kingdom, Australia and Germany.
The Antiquities Coalition chairman Deborah Lehr said that the organisation is exerting all its efforts to safeguard cultural heritage through advocacy, research and practical solutions.
She also called for the establishment of political administrationin Egypt to prevent the illegal smuggling of antiquities.