AC Founder and Chairman Highlights Yemen’s Fight Against Cultural Racketeering in Joint Op-Ed

Deborah Lehr Joins Ambassador of Yemen to the U.S. Mohammed Al-Hadhrami to Showcase Yemen’s Example of Using Close Engagement with the U.S. Government to Safeguard Cultural Heritage

In the midst of a humanitarian crisis following the Houthis’ coup in 2014, Yemen achieved a bilateral cultural property agreement with the United States, committing both countries to combating the illicit trade of antiquities. Signed on August 30, this agreement builds on the emergency import restrictions put in place in 2020.

In a new op-ed for The Hill, our Chairman and Founder Deborah Lehr and Ambassador of Yemen to the United States Mohammed Al-Hadhrami write that Yemen’s example of using close engagement with the U.S. government to fight antiquities trafficking can serve as an example to other countries around the world:

Recent conflicts in Afghanistan, Ukraine, Sudan and Niger show that we cannot always predict when and where culture will be under threat. A proactive system that allows quick responses to crises or emergency situations is a more effective approach for responding to growing threats of cultural racketeering. Yemen’s case of using close engagement with the U.S. government to fight antiquities trafficking can serve as an example to other countries around the world. It helped achieve the successful repatriation of 79 of its antiquities and the expansion of cooperation with cultural institutions for the preservation and presentation of its cultural heritage.

The Antiquities Coalition is a proud supporter of this agreement, which closes U.S. borders to looted art and antiquities from Yemen while making certain the U.S. art market does not contribute to Yemen’s tragedy.

Read the full op-ed here.

G20 Maintains its Focus on Fighting Cultural Racketeering

2023 Leader’s Statement and Ministerial Outputs Reinforce Commitment to Culture

From September 9-10, global leaders convened in India for the 2023 G20 Summit. The historic meeting resulted in the New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration, which includes strong language calling for the “full recognition and protection of culture.”

We call for the full recognition and protection of culture with its intrinsic value as a transformative driver and an enabler for the achievement of the SDGs and advance the inclusion of culture as a standalone goal in future discussions on a possible post-2030 development agenda. We reiterate our commitment to strengthen our fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property at national, regional or international levels to enable its return and restitution to their countries and communities of origin as relevant, and call for sustained dialogue and action in that endeavour, with a view to strengthen cultural diplomacy and intercultural exchanges, consistent with national law and relevant UNESCO Conventions. We encourage the international community to protect the living cultural heritage, including the intellectual property, notably with regard to the impact of the over commercialization and misappropriation of such living heritage on the sustainability and on the livelihoods of practitioners and community bearers as well as Indigenous Peoples.

The AC welcomes this commitment in the declaration, which we first called for in our Task Force Report, Safeguarding Cultural Heritage In Conflict Zones: A Roadmap for the G20 to Combat the Illicit Trade, published in 2021.

This outcome emphasizes the result of the G20 Culture Ministerial, held late last month. On August 26, cultural leaders from G20 member states, invited countries, and representatives from international organizations gathered in Varanasi for the third G20 Culture Ministerial, which concluded with the release of the Kashi Cultural Pathway Outcome Document. The statement recognized looting and illicit trafficking of cultural property as a serious crime and reiterated the G20’s commitment to fighting cultural racketeering. It put forward four specific calls for action: 

  1. Encouraging the ratification and effective implementation of international agreements and conventions as relevant…while also ensuring progress and better implementation of international standards
  2. Ensuring cooperation and the strengthening of appropriate tools… to better support transnational investigations and prosecution on cultural crimes
  3. Further encouraging cross-sectoral cooperation and dialogue among cultural heritage and disaster-risk management stakeholders at the local , national, regional and international level,
  4. Strengthening preventive action and regulation of illicitly exported cultural property more

The ministerial followed four meetings of the Culture Working Group (CWG), which convened over the course of India’s presidency to examine priority topics. Executive Director Tess Davis represented the Antiquities Coalition at the first thematic webinar held on March 28, 2023. Davis’s remarks and the AC’s 2021 Task Force Report were both referenced in “G20 Culture: Shaping the Global Narrative for Inclusive Growth,” published by the CWG.

The AC commends the G20 for prioritizing this issue and demonstrating the political will needed to combat looting and trafficking from the top down. We look forward to Brazil continuing and building on this important initiative as they host the G20 in 2024. 

Read the Kashi Cultural Pathway here

Read G20 Culture: Shaping the Global Narrative for Inclusive Growth here.

Antiquities Coalition Cited by G20 Culture Working Group

Working Group Publication References the AC and Task Force Report

Building on the previous work of Saudi Arabia, Italy, and Indonesia, the Government of India led the G20 to prioritize and take action on cultural heritage protection during its 2023 presidency.  

Under the leadership of India, the Culture Working Group convened four times over the course of the year examined the following topics:

  1. Protection and restitution of cultural property
  2. Harnessing living heritage for a sustainable future
  3. Promotion of cultural and creative industries and creative economy
  4. Leveraging digital technologies for the promotion and protection of culture

These meetings were supported by four thematic webinars, held between March and April of 2023, which were focused on fostering collaborative dialogue and knowledge sharing on each priority topic. 

The Antiquities Coalition, the only non-governmental organization to participate in the first thematic webinar, was represented by Executive Director Tess Davis, who delivered five recommendations for the G20 to combat looting and trafficking. 

The discussion and outcomes of the thematic webinars were published by the Culture Working Group in a paper titled “G20 CULTURE: Shaping the Global Narrative for Inclusive Growth.” Davis’s remarks and the AC’s 2021 Task Force Report, Safeguarding Cultural Heritage In Conflict Zones: A Roadmap for the G20 to Combat the Illicit Trade, were both referenced in the paper alongside other expert reports.

Read G20 Culture: Shaping the Global Narrative for Inclusive Growth here.

Catch up on the first thematic webinar here

AC’s Helena Arose Amongst FACT Coalition Anti-Money Laundering Experts

The Financial Accountability and Corporate Transparency (FACT) Coalition has named Helena Arose, the Antiquities Coalition’s Director of Programs, to their list of anti-money laundering experts. Arose’s work with the Antiquities Coalition has centered around collaborating with key stakeholders to fight the illicit trade of ancient art and antiquities as well as financial crimes facilitated by the global art market. 

For too long, the looting and trafficking of ancient antiquities has been seen as a victimless crime. However, art and antiquities have financed some of the last century’s worst villains—from the Nazis, to the Khmer Rouge, the IRA, al Qaeda, the Taliban, and Daesh (ISIS). Far beyond warzones, criminals are also exploiting the art market’s vulnerabilities to commit a wide range of offenses from fraud to forgery, tax evasion, money laundering, and sanctions violations.

The Antiquities Coalition commends the FACT Coalition for including the fight against this illicit trade into their accountability and transparency efforts and looks forward to future joint efforts to combat cultural racketeering.

AC Leads Discussion on International Cooperation for Safeguarding Cultural Heritage Under Threat

Around the world and throughout history, the looting and trafficking of antiquities has flourished when civil society is weakened by conflict, economic crises, natural disasters, climate change, or pandemics. This criminal activity, closely linked to armed conflict and violent extremism, is inflicting grave harm, on both our world heritage and the legitimate market.

At the Antiquities Coalition (AC), we know that to disrupt this illicit trade, preventive actions or solutions require international cooperation.

In partnership with the Cultural Heritage Center in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, and the Embassy of Yemen, the AC convened a closed-door roundtable event on international and multilateral tools for safeguarding cultural heritage at risk at the National Museum of American Diplomacy on August 30, 2023. Following a presentation on an example of bilateral cooperation between the United States and the Republic of Yemen, the AC led a moderated discussion among representatives from governments, law enforcement, and the private sector.

A variety of solutions were discussed, including:

  • Bilateral and multilateral agreements
  • Cooperation to secure borders
  • Information sharing and coordination among law enforcement agencies
  • Museum repatriation and loans
  • Technical assistance

Following the conversation, the AC was pleased to attend the signing ceremony for a cultural property agreement between the United States and the Republic of Yemen. Speakers included His Excellency Mohammed Al-Hadhrami, Ambassador of the Republic of Yemen to the United States; Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Lee Satterfield; U.S. Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking; and Dr. Zaydoon Zaid, Council of American Overseas Research Centers Senior Advisor for Cultural Heritage.

The AC applauds this agreement and looks forward to future efforts to combat the looting of cultural heritage and will continue to foster international dialogue and collaboration about the illicit trade of art and antiquities.