EU states urge action against ISIS trade in antiques

Archaeological sites in Syria, such as the ancient Roman city of Apamea, have been looted for antiquities, to be sold in exchange for money and weaponry, throughout the Syrian Civil War. [Eusebius@Commons/Flickr]

Germany, Italy and France called yesterday (8 December) for the European Union to crack down on the illegal trade in antiquities used to bankroll attacks by the Islamic State group.

The culture ministers of the three countries wrote a letter to the European Commission urging concerted measures against the illicit trade in cultural treasures for the benefit of the jihadist group.

“By taking part directly or indirectly in the trade in cultural artifacts from archaeological digs, museums and libraries finance their (ISIS’s) atrocities in the region and in Europe,” Monika Gruetters, Dario Franceschini and Fleur Pellerin wrote.

They said they had agreed at a meeting of EU culture ministers on 24 November, in the wake of last month’s deadly IS assault in Paris, that it was “high time for Europe… to take more effective action against these attacks on our cultural heritage and the trade in cultural assets”.

Among steps the ministers called for were uniform EU import and export rules, more reliable certification of traded antiquities and expedited means to return plundered goods to their countries of origin.

In territory it controls in Iraq and Syria, ISIS finances itself through means including oil smuggling, extortion, kidnapping for ransom and selling looted antiquities.

The United States and Russia said last week that they were drafting UN resolutions aimed at ramping up global efforts to choke off ISIS’s sources of financing.

The proposed new Security Council measures would build on a resolution adopted in February that sought to cut off millions of dollars in earnings from ISIS smuggling of oil and antiquities.

The illicit traffic in cultural heritage is a transnational crime that affects the countries of origin, transit and final destination. The illicit trade in works of art is sustained by the demand from the arts market, the opening of borders, the improvement in transport systems and the political instability of certain countries.

Over the past decade we have seen an increasing trend of illicit trafficking in cultural objects from counties in the Middle East affected by armed conflict. The black market in works of art is becoming as lucrative as those for drugs, weapons and counterfeit goods.

In February 2015, the United Nations Security Council approved ?Resolution 2199, calling for countries to take appropriate steps to prevent the trade in stolen Iraqi and Syrian cultural property. It also recognized the global role of INTERPOL in addressing this illicit trade.

Subscribe to our newsletters