US and Yemen Sign New Cultural Property Agreement to Combat Looting

On August 30, the United States and Yemen signed a bilateral cultural property agreement, committing both countries to combating the illicit trade of antiquities. This agreement, which builds on the Emergency Import Restrictions that were put in place in February of 2020, was signed by His Excellency Mohammed Al-Hadrami, Ambassador of Yemen to the United States, and the Honorable Ms. Lee Satterfield, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs. The Antiquities Coalition commends the United States and Yemen for strengthening their diplomatic ties in the fight against the looting and trafficking of ancient art and artifacts.

For over nine years, Yemen has suffered a significant loss of life, devastation of its communities, and destruction of cultural heritage due to ongoing civil war. The new agreement will ensure that undocumented objects from Yemen that may have been illegally obtained or exported will not cross U.S. borders. Reaching this agreement is a critical step to helping the people of Yemen retain and protect their priceless cultural heritage. This agreement also helps the U.S. to protect responsible American collectors, dealers, and museums from unknowingly contributing to the ongoing conflict in Yemen through the purchase of looted artifacts. 

With this signing, the United States now has agreements with six countries in the Middle East and North Africa region, including Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Libya, and Morocco. 

The Antiquities Coalition was honored to be in attendance at the signing ceremony and is a proud partner of both governments in our shared mission to combat cultural racketeering. We look forward to continued progress to safeguard cultural heritage across the globe, particularly during periods of conflict.

AC’s Tess Davis Featured in The Guardian: South-East Asian Countries Demand Denver Museum Return Looted Artifacts

Following investigative reporting from the Denver Post, eyes are turning to the Denver Art Museum (DAM), which has been accused of possessing stolen objects from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand.

High-level government representatives from these countries have formally asked the DAM to return eight pieces that were illegally stolen from temples and historic sites. However, representatives say that the museum never responded to their letters. Additionally, the museum still possesses hundreds of pieces acquired from the late Emma Bunker, an art dealer who was named in criminal and civil cases for her role in smuggling artifacts. 

Tess Davis, Executive Director of the Antiquities Coalition, called out the museum in a recent article from The Guardian for not verifying the ethical acquisition of their pieces and celebrating Bunker as recently as 2021:

“Why is [Denver Art Museum], a public institution with all the responsibilities and benefits that go along with that, not ensuring the integrity of its own collections? The accusations here don’t involve mistakes made in the colonial era, or, frankly, even the 20th century. These were actions that were taken in 2016, 2018, 2021.” 

Museums in the US are facing increasing scrutiny for collecting looted items, and the Antiquities Coalition looks forward to continued efforts from institutions to ensure that their collections are not just legal, but also ethical. 

Take a look at the full article from The Guardian here. 

AC Director of Programs, Helena Arose, publishes chapter in The Routledge Handbook of Heritage Destruction

Cambodia’s rich material cultural heritage has suffered during periods of war and conflict over the past several decades. However, the greatest destruction to material cultural heritage has not been combat, however, but looting, an activity driven by the extreme market demand for Cambodian artefacts.

On August 10, editors José Antonio González Zarandona, Emma Cunliffe, and Melathi Saldin published The Routledge Handbook of Heritage Destruction, which examines new insights, developing methods, and recent results on the topic of cultural heritage destruction from a wide range of experts. The book joins three other titles in the Routledge Handbooks on Museums, Galleries and Heritage series.

Antiquities Coalition Director of Programs, Helena Arose, joined scholars Angela Chiu and Ben Evans to author a chapter that takes a close look at the demand for Cambodian heritage and provides an overview of the history of its looting and protection, showing that cultural racketeering can cause as much damage to a country’s heritage as outright destruction.

Learn more and order the book here.