Stephane Ipert, Conservation and Preservation Manager at Qatar National Library and Director of the IFLA Regional Preservation and Conservation (PAC) Center for Arab Countries and the Middle East, recently spoke at the World Customs Organization (WCO) in Brussels, Belgium, where he presented the activities of the IFLA PAC Center to fight the trafficking of manuscripts, books and archives in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

Ipert’s presentation, given during the annual WCO Enforcement Committee meeting, highlighted the specific actions foreseen for the period 2020 – 2021, which the IFLA PAC Center at the Library will undertake, including an international seminar and collaboration with WCO on a course for customs employees in Doha.

Additional activities, which will be performed in cooperation with IFLA and other international and regional associations and international organisations include: developing activities to help customs employees distinguish various types of documentary heritage, and tracking the auction sales of items which may have been stolen from Arab countries in conflict, such as Yemen, Syria and Libya. These activities will be complemented by a series of awareness initiatives for the general public as well as ‘red lists’ of stolen manuscripts and books.

Ipert said that the trafficking of manuscripts is a highly sensitive issue, as these high-value objects are often small, and can be hidden and therefore, transported easily. This is particularly challenging for the IFLA PAC Center in Qatar, given that four of the 19 Arab countries they cover are currently in conflict. It is a known fact that heritage artifacts are especially at risk during conflict and are vulnerable to illicit looting and trafficking.

At the conclusion of the WCO Enforcement Committee meeting, Mariya Polner, Program Lead on Cultural Heritage at WCO, said that cooperation with all international and regional stakeholders is very important in the fight against cultural heritage trafficking. She said that it is, in fact, a key aspect of the success of such projects.

The Library has been the IFLA PAC Center for the region since 2015, and these activities are in line with its driving role as a guardian of the region’s heritage.  The Library, as the IFLA Regional PAC Center, works closely with institutions in the MENA region to equip experts with the skills needed to conserve and preserve the rich cultural heritage of Qatar and the region.

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