Live Webinar: The Need for Proactive Policy

Join us August 15 at 10:00 AM New York / 3:00 PM London / 7:30 PM Chennai for this Free Webinar

As the Russia-Ukraine War rages on, culture in Ukraine remains under attack.  

From recent conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, and now, Ukraine, the international community has seen the catastrophic impact of war on cultural heritage. But conflict is not the only threat. Looting and illicit trade feed upon any weakening of civil society caused by globalization, natural disasters, climate change, and pandemics. In such situations, the international community scrambles to implement protective emergency actions – usually too late. What is worse, resources deployed in one emergency rarely prevent theft and illicit trade in future emergencies elsewhere, whatever and wherever they might be.

On August 15, the Antiquities Coalition will convene top experts from academia, civil society, and the law to make recommendations for how international public and legal policy should take a proactive stance aimed at eradicating threats to cultural heritage globally. The discussion will feature takeaways from the Antiquities Coalition’s roadmap for the G20, Safeguarding Cultural Heritage in Conflict Zones, as an example of how leaders can strengthen global efforts against the looting and trafficking of cultural objects.

As evidenced by the situation in Ukraine, our current policy framework is failing—failing our cultural heritage, failing the communities and countries with the closest ties, failing their governments, failing law enforcement, and failing the legitimate art market. Such a stark assessment is daunting, and demands rigorous investigation and discussion. The Antiquities Coalition looks forward to your participation in this important conversation. 

Moderated by Dr. James K. Reap. 

AC’s Tess Davis Describes Douglas Latchford’s Crimes in Bloomberg Businessweek

Bad actors continue to exploit the global art market, putting our shared history and security at risk. For more than 40 years, Douglas Latchford was the world’s foremost dealer of Cambodian antiquities. Latchford spent decades trafficking the country’s art and antiquities, even allowing some objects to end up in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met) in New York. 

The Antiquities Coalition is holding Latchford and the broader network that supported his crimes accountable through years of independent research and outside collaborations. In 2021, the Antiquities Coalition worked extensively alongside the Pandora Papers investigation in exposing Latchford on a global scale.

Tess Davis, Executive Director of the Antiquities Coalition, was mentioned in a recent Bloomberg article that explores Latchford’s crimes and the unique position that made him more culpable.

Davis has also detailed Latchford’s dark legacy and his lifelong tactics to pillage Cambodia during decades of civil war, foreign occupation, and genocide in an OpEd for The Diplomat. The Antiquities Coalition continues to call on the art world to return stolen items and urges museums like the Met to implement stronger protections against cultural racketeering.

Read the full article here.

Research from AC’s Tess Davis and Trafficking Culture Quoted in ABC Australia

Looted antiquities are usually traced back to a smuggling network that reaches all corners of the global art market. In a research paper, Simon Mackenzie of Trafficking Culture and Tess Davis, Executive Director of the Antiquities Coalition, explore the anatomy of a trafficking network and identify the lynch-pin as a “Janus,” the Roman god who wears two faces:

“He is Janus — one face looking into the illicit past of an artefact and one looking into its public future where that dark past is concealed — the point of transition, or gateway between local looting and the international art market.”

Mackenzie and Davis’ research was quoted by Mario Christodoulou, an investigative journalist for ABC Australia, who detailed the secret history of Australia’s Khmer antiquities. Christodoulou writes that Peng Seng sold ancient Thai and Khmer sculptures, but Seng’s “Janus” is Douglas Latchford, who is widely known for trafficking antiquities during the Cambodian civil war.

Read the full article here.

New UNESCO and DCT Report Details COVID-19 Recovery for the Culture Sector

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a significant loss of life, devastating economic impacts, and major disruptions to livelihood. Cultural heritage and our shared history are no exception, with reports of cultural racketeering skyrocketing across the globe over the last few years.

In 2020, the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) warned that this public health emergency would result in a “glut of stolen artifacts” for sale online. Among the extensive list of nations impacted by this illegal trade, Egyptian officials reported that illegal excavations in the country had more than doubled since the outbreak of COVID-19.

New research shows the culture sector experienced a significant decline during the pandemic, with a loss of global revenue from 20 to 40 percent and approximately 10 million jobs lost in 2020 alone. Without individuals to protect and preserve art and antiquities in museums and other sites, cultural heritage faces a greater risk of being looted by bad actors who seek to exploit the global art market.

In response to the growing need for structural change, UNESCO and the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT) released a new report, Culture in Times of COVID-19: Resilience, Recovery and Revival, to explore key trends and transformations that can boost coordinated multilateral recovery of the culture sector.

Executive Director of the Antiquities Coalition, Tess Davis, and Project Director, Helena Arose, were honored to attend the launch of the report in Abu Dhabi alongside UNESCO and DCT to discuss the key findings and the unique opportunity for lasting change.

The Antiquities Coalition has monitored the pandemic’s impact on cultural racketeering and historical sites that have suffered from looting and will continue to support research and recovery efforts that aim to build an inclusive, sustainable, and resilient culture sector for years to come.

Think Tank Emphasizes Cultural Heritage Has Become One of Russia’s Most Effective Weapons

In the latest policy brief from the AC Think Tank, How Does Russia Exploit History and Cultural Heritage for Information Warfare? Recommendations for NATO, authors Daniel Shultz and Christopher Jasparro provide a detailed case study illustrating how historical propaganda and the exploitation of cultural heritage have become a central component of the Kremlin’s information warfare campaigns, orchestrated from the top by Vladimir Putin himself. To combat this threat, they offer recommendations for NATO to raise institutional awareness of this threat in order to promote resilience, effective counters, and a more accurate understanding of adversary intent and vulnerabilities in the information environment.

Since the publication of the brief, news from Ukraine on this topic has been disturbing. On June 12, international experts reported that a specialist gang was committing targeted theft of cultural objects from Ukraine and smuggling them into Russia. “There is a possibility it is all part of undermining the identity of Ukraine as a separate country by implying legitimate Russian ownership of all their exhibits,” said Brian Daniels, an anthropologist and research associate at the Smithsonian Institution.

In light of this and other reports, the AC was pleased to convene top military and heritage experts this month to hear directly from Shultz and Jasparro on their recommendations as well as key insights from recent developments. This presentation was followed by a moderated discussion on counter-messaging, awareness-raising, and institutionalized training to combat Russian aggression. Due to the sensitivity of the subject, this briefing was closed-door, with invitees composed of representatives from government, the military, law enforcement, intergovernmental organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and academia. This event is just one example of how the AC Think Tank is working to bring high-quality, innovative, and results-oriented research directly to decision makers.

For a summary and link to the policy brief, visit:

The AC Joins Mediterranean Leaders in Signing Naples Declaration

Communiqué Calls for Stronger Cultural Heritage Protection Throughout the Region

On June 16-17, the Conference of the Ministers of Culture of the Mediterranean brought together governments with European, intergovernmental, and non-governmental organizations in Italy. This first cultural ministerial of the EU-Southern partnership—a coalition between the European Union, and its neighbors on the Mediterranean—concluded with leaders signing the Naples Declaration. The Antiquities Coalition was honored to be one of the few non-governmental delegations, and the only one from the United States, invited to sign the communique and speak at the broader event.

The Naples Declaration seeks to protect cultural heritage from disasters and other crisis scenarios, while highlighting how culture drives and enables sustainable development. It reinforces several previous commitments to safeguarding cultural heritage, including the G20’s 2021 Rome Declaration. Specifically, it urges nations to:

Strengthen measures to combat illicit trafficking in cultural goods through a multifaceted / intersectoral approach that takes into account its criminal, financial and social dimensions. To this end, explore measures to improve the legal frameworks for strengthening the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural goods, in particular their repatriation or return to their countries of origin, and explore measures for strengthening cooperation among police, customs, and authorities cross-border cultural administration.

Executive Director of the Antiquities Coalition, Tess Davis, emphasized how Mediterranean leaders can prioritize the protection of cultural heritage as part of her remarks during the event. While this ministerial and Naples Declaration send a strong message to bad actors in the art market, leaders throughout the Mediterranean region must take continuous action to ensure we effectively combat the illegal trade of cultural racketeering. 

The Antiquities Coalition looks forward to seeing how the Naples Declaration will strengthen cultural heritage protection throughout the Mediterranean and inspire other regions to combat cultural racketeering.


AC Chairman and Founder Details How China Combats Cultural Racketeering for China Pictorial

In 2021, the Chinese art market was valued at $13.4 billion, making it 20 percent of the global total, second only to the United States. But as interest in Chinese cultural heritage continues to grow, so does the risk that bad actors will attempt to exploit it.

In a recent article for China Pictorial, Deborah Lehr, Chairman and Founder of the Antiquities Coalition, details how the Chinese government is taking serious measures to crack down on the illegal trade of art and antiquities:

“For one, China has strengthened its laws, both nationally and locally. By the end of 2016, there were 154 local laws, 138 local government statutes, and more than 13,000 local regulatory documents related to cultural work across the country,” Lehr says. 

Lehr also outlines China’s strict approach to enforcement, highlighting the country’s 2021 crackdown that caught 650 gangs and resulted in the arrests of 61 most-wanted suspects of cultural relic theft.

Countries must work internationally and coordinate efforts with other governments to fight against antiquities trafficking. China is an example of how countries can develop laws, implement cultural heritage protection into urbanization planning, and engage internationally to ensure we can celebrate our shared history and preserve it for future generations.

Read the full article here.