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AEA and UNICRI Informal Technical Briefing on Nuclear Analytical Techniques to Combat Illicit Trafficking in Cultural Goods

IAEA and UNICRI Informal Technical Briefing on Nuclear Analytical Techniques to Combat Illicit Trafficking in Cultural Goods

Vienna International Centre (Vienna, Austria) -


An informal technical meeting on the use of nuclear science to combat illicit trafficking in cultural goods will be held at the Vienna International Centre (Vienna, Austria) on 4 May 2023.

The technical meeting is being organised by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI). UNICRI and IAEA share the common goal of promoting the use of nuclear science and technology to enhance the effectiveness of crime prevention and control tools, while working together to assist countries in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The retail value of illicit trafficking in cultural property is estimated to be worth between $1.2 billion to $1.6 billion annually[i]. Such criminal activities include the theft of cultural property from museums, the illegal excavation and looting of archaeological sites and the illicit transfers in ownership. Indeed, illicit trafficking in cultural goods, together with the destruction of cultural heritage, has been recognized as a threat to international peace and security by the UN Security Council[ii]. Moreover, the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 76/16 on “Return or restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin”, adopted unanimously on 6 December 2021, calls for comprehensive measures to step up the fight against illicit trafficking in cultural property, and includes the issue in the agenda of the 79th session of the General Assembly, starting in 2024. The key element of the joint IAEA – UNICRI initiative in this area is to improve the understanding and use of nuclear techniques to assist in the authentication and verification of the provenance of cultural goods, in close collaboration with law enforcement agencies, ultimately supporting Member States’ efforts to more effectively prevent and control illicit trafficking in cultural property. This action falls within a broader initiative, aimed at creating and operating a technology-driven integrated platform to enhance the use of technology for monitoring, preventing, investigating and prosecuting different forms of illicit trade. The creation of a fruitful dialogue between scientists and law enforcers to progressively develop and adopt innovative technology for these purposes is at the core of the overall IAEA-UNICRI cooperation.

This joint informal technical briefing will provide an overview of the key aspects of illicit trafficking in cultural property; highlight relevant IAEA activities on sustainable heritage management and its success stories on the role and use of nuclear analytical techniques to detect looted and fake artefacts; discuss synergies and complementarities between the IAEA and UNICRI activities; and introduce the planned technology-driven platform to enhance crime prevention and control of different forms of illicit trade.



[i] C. May: Transnational Crime and the Developing World, Global Financial Integrity, 2017

[ii] UN Security Council resolution 2347 (2017