Antiquities Coalition’s #CultureUnderThreat Conference
September 12, 2016
In Amman, on September 8, the Antiquities Coalition, Middle East Institute, and Government of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan hosted seventeen Middle East and North African countries and the League of Arab States for the second annual Ministerial-level #CultureUnderThreat Conference to coordinate efforts to halt the use of antiquities trafficking as a source of terrorist financing. Under the leadership of His Excellency Nasser Judeh, Jordan’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Middle East and North Africa Task Force Against Cultural Racketeering also held its inaugural meeting to develop a detailed, aggressive five part initiative. Jordan and Egypt—which hosted the 2015 #CultureUnderThreat Conference—continue to play a leadership role in driving this process.
The Task Force, which will meet on a biannual basis, will coordinate its efforts in the following ways:
- Information Sharing Mechanisms: Establish mechanisms to strengthen information sharing, particularly in the areas of best practices, antiquities auctions, financial aid, and the possible establishment of a “Provenance Verification System” for pieces sold overseas.
- Cultural Memoranda of Understandings: Launch bilateral negotiations with “demand” countries, and invite the Arab League to look into strengthening regional collaboration in the fight antiquities racketeering.
- Capacity Building: Provide border patrol and customs agents with comprehensive training on combating the illicit antiquities trade, ensure that local law enforcement agencies play a primary role in the prevention of the illicit trafficking of cultural properties, and explore methods of collaboration and support among regional, subregional, and UN organizations.
- Heritage Jobs Initiative: Establish a pilot project with interested countries to test job creation opportunities around heritage sites.
- Awareness Campaign: Create and launch an awareness campaign against the purchase of “blood” and looted antiquities, which was agreed upon during the May 2015 #CultureUnderThreat Conference.
International experts attended to provide counsel to the task force including Dr. Amr Al-Azm, Shawnee State University; Dr. Neil Brodie, University of Oxford; Ms. Sandra Cobden, Christie’s Auction House; Dr. Larry Coben, Sustainable Preservation Institute; Mr. Jose Angelo Estrella Faria, UNIDROIT; and Dr. Patty Gerstenblith, DePaul University College of Law. We were fortunate that U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Larry Schwartz also participated to discuss the role of the State Department in protecting heritage and encouraging countries to cooperate with the United States.
Her Excellency Lina Annab, Jordan’s Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, chaired the conference, with great success. At the conclusion of the day-long discussions, the ministers issued the Amman Communiqué, which outlines priority areas for cooperation. The Communiqué states, “The participating countries agree that crimes against culture are crimes against civilization. They pledge to work together to bring this illicit trade to a halt.”
The Amman Communiqué builds upon the 2015 Cairo Declaration, in which ministers from ten countries agreed to take steps to combat cultural crimes at the first #CultureUnderThreat Conference in Cairo, Egypt, as well as a follow-up summit held in September on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly meetings. The day concluded with Minister Annab hosting the attendees at a dinner under the stars at the historic Temple of Hercules of the Amman Citadel.
The signatories of the Amman Communiqué are the the Governments of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Arab Republic of Egypt, Islamic Republic of Mauritania, Kingdom of Bahrain, Kingdom of Morocco, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Lebanese Republic, Palestinian Authority, People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria, Republic of Iraq, Republic of Sudan, Republic of Tunisia, Republic of Yemen, State of Kuwait, State of Libya, State of Qatar, Sultanate of Oman, and United Arab Emirates. The League of Arab States also participated in the conference.
The #CultureUnderThreat Conference is held on an annual basis. The Antiquities Coalition will also be bringing together global leaders and other organizations involved in the campaign to fight against cultural racketeering in an event with the Asia Society on September 16 on the margins of the U.N. General Assembly.
The unprecedented number of participating nations stands against a backdrop of continued looting and illicit trade in cultural materials. That black marketeering has netted Daesh and other extremist organizations millions of dollars and put millions of archaeological, cultural, and religious sites and objects across the MENA region at risk from armed conflict, targeted destruction, and organized plunder. While Daesh’s campaign of looting and destruction is conducted primarily in Iraq and Syria, violent extremist organizations have engaged in attacks against culture across the region, including Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen.
This urgent threat has helped to galvanize both governments and nongovernmental organizations. In addition to launching the Task Force, the participating countries have also tasked the Antiquities Coalition with developing an International Advisory Committee to will support their efforts. Please continue to follow our website for future updates as the countries actively begin to implement their plan over the upcoming year.