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Media Release
Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP

19 May 2003

Minister Acts to Protect Iraq Heritage

Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp, today announced the formation of an Australian expert cultural heritage group to provide the Federal Government with practical steps to ensure the recovery and future protection of Iraq's cultural heritage.

"The loss and damage to Iraq's cultural heritage following the fall of the Hussein regime has been a tragedy for not only the people of Iraq, but also for the global community as Iraq is regarded by many as the very "cradle of civilization".

"With some of the world's leading experts in Iraqi heritage, Australia will play a key role in cooperating with the international community, including UNESCO and Interpol, to help restore and protect Iraqi heritage which has been in sad disrepair for the last decade.

"While reports on the situation in Iraq vary considerably, first hand reports indicate significant losses in the recent conflict while coalition forces were still engaged in combat with forces loyal to Saddam Hussein.

"Australia is a signatory of the Hague Convention for the protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (1954) and Australian forces were made well aware of these obligations. I am now pleased to announce the formation of the Cultural Heritage Reference Group of Iraq which will provide important advice on how we can assist with the recovery and protection of this country's heritage.

"We are also working to ensure that we can seize and return any Iraqi looted cultural heritage which is found entering or within Australia. Australia will act promptly to ensure we are not a staging post for this illegal traffic."

Dr Kemp said Australia is working with Interpol and international heritage bodies to stop any traffic in Iraqi artifacts.

"To assist Australia's participation in this international effort, I have commissioned Mr Bryan Hanley, an international art crime expert. Mr Hanley attended the Interpol International Conference on Cultural Property Stolen in Iraq on 5-6 May in Lyon, France. He helped to frame an agreed approach to the forensic issues and was able to identify the resources and expertise needed to solve this major crime and recover missing items," Dr Kemp said.

"Australia is internationally recognised for its heritage management skills and has particular expertise to support the conservation of heritage material. Australia has been particularly successful in managing a diverse heritage over a large country with regional organizations, and in harsh and difficult conditions.

"Iraq's regional areas have lacked resources for regional areas, and this is where Australia's regional management experience may be of real assistance. There are landscape and climate similarities between Australia and Iraq, and Australians have a long tradition of working on archaeological sites in the Middle East.

"These skills and knowledge can have great application on the ground in Iraq since it appears likely that museums and libraries in areas outside of Baghdad and other major cities are likely to need assistance.

"The management of the Iraqi's heritage had been severely eroded under the previous regime and supporting the international community in strengthening heritage management will be an important element of reconstruction."

The newly established expert group is working with key Federal Government departments and agencies to formulate an urgent response to the theft of artifacts from museums and libraries across Iraq and make recommendations on the role of cultural heritage in the reconstruction of Iraq.

Dr Kemp said the group is consulting with professional organisations within Australia, including the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the Australian Library and Information Association, Museums Australia, and the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Materials before recommending appropriate actions for further whole of government consideration.

"The Cultural Heritage Reference Group will be urgently reporting to Government on the practical initiatives to link with other international cultural heritage assistance programs and the international effort to track down stolen artworks and artifacts," Dr Kemp said.

The members of the Cultural Heritage Reference Group for Iraq include:

Media Contact:
Catherine Job 02 6277 7640 or 0408 648 400

Commonwealth of Australia