Comments Submitted on the Draft Policy on Cultural Heritage of the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court

On 16 April 2021, a diverse group of experts, including practicing attorneys, law professors and scholars, archaeologists, and other professionals with extensive expertise and experience in cultural heritage law, ICL and IHL submitted comments to the ICC Office of the Prosecutor’s Draft Policy on Cultural Heritage.

In summary, the Comments emphasized the importance of the OTP’s Draft Policy on Cultural Heritage given the lack of global consensus around priorities, practices, and policies for investigating and prosecuting cultural heritage crimes. The Comment addressed the scope of the Draft Policy and called on the OTP to provide concrete examples within its Policy that demonstrate the broad nature of cultural heritage and crimes that may target it, and better illustrate the full scope of the global problem. They supported the OTP taking a comprehensive and expansive view of the terms ‘cultural heritage’ and ‘cultural property’, including natural and intangible heritage, but noted that the Draft Policy’s current definition may unintentionally exclude certain types of cultural heritage.

Regarding the Court’s Regulatory Framework, the Comments urged the OTP to make full use of applicable treaties, the principles and rules of international law, and jurisprudence concerning cultural heritage and property. The Comments provided notes on the OTP’s approach to natural heritage, and sought further guidance on military necessity and proportionality and their relation to cultural value for both selection and prosecution of crimes. The Comments also encourage consideration of wider international law sources on the crime of pillage and its serious consequences, and urged that the OTP look to ways to prosecute pillage through other provisions of the Rome Statute, especially when it may rise to an attack or act of hostility.

The Comments noted that the Draft Policy lacked discussion on the OTP’s position on reparations for crimes against and affecting cultural heritage and property, and asked for clarification on a number of issues that are particularly critical to successful case selection, investigations, and prosecutions, including the mens rea requirement; the OTP’s assessment of the factors determining gravity; and how the court aims to collect, preserve, and maintain the chain of custody for evidence used in trials, as well as ensure the integrity, quality, comprehensiveness, and relevance of the evidence itself.

The Comments were prepared and submitted by the following individuals:

Helena Arose, Project Director, The Antiquities Coalition

Alessandro Chechi, Senior Researcher, University of Geneva

Emma Cunliffe, Secretariat, Blue Shield International

Brian Daniels,Vice President for Cultural Heritage, Archaeological Institute of America

Tess Davis, Executive Director, The Antiquities Coalition

Haydee Dijkstal, Barrister, 33 Bedford Row

Kristin Hausler, Dorset Senior Fellow, Centre Director, British Institute of International and Comparative Law

Yasaman Nabati Mazloumi, Secretariat, Blue Shield International

James Reap, Professor, University of Georgia

Marc-André Renold, Professor and Director of the Art-Law Centre (CDA), University of Geneva

Antiquities Coalition Updates Interactive Timeline on New York Antiquities Seizures to Reflect Recent Repatriations

Disgraced art dealer Subhash Kapoor currently sits in prison in India, awaiting the outcome of his trial there, while fighting extradition to the United States—but at the height of his criminal career, he led a smuggling ring that trafficked thousands of art pieces and antiquities from all over the globe. Thus far, more than 2,500 of these items have been recovered, with a total value currently exceeding $143 million.

Kapoor’s racket is not alone, either. At this very moment, an untold number of criminal art enterprises are looting and smuggling countless artifacts from around the world. The Antiquities Trafficking Unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has been working alongside law enforcement partners with ICE Homeland Security Investigations to ensure that these priceless relics are found and returned to their rightful homes. 

Most recently, on Monday, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr. announced the return of 33 antiquities, valued at approximately $1.8 million, to the people of Afghanistan.

The April 19 repatriation ceremony closely follows the April 1 repatriation of three antiquities, valued at approximately $125,000, to the people of Nepal, as well as the March 25 repatriation of a pair of Buddha statues, valued at approximately $66,000, to the people of Sri Lanka. 

These repatriations are now reflected in the Antiquities Coalition’s newly-updated interactive timeline, “New York’s 1%: Are They Supporting Crime and Terrorism?”

This Tiki-Toki tool sheds light on the ongoing operations of the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and the success they have had in ending demand for illicit antiquities since 2012. Additional updates will be made periodically.

To explore more of the Antiquities Coalition’s interactive timelines, click here.

G20 Prioritizes the Fight Against Cultural Racketeering with High Level Event of Key Stakeholders

Antiquities Coalition Urges Coordinated Action to Combat the Illicit Trade in Art and Artifacts

Last week, Deborah Lehr, Founder and Chairman of the Antiquities Coalition, joined leaders from government, law enforcement, and civil society in the Group of 20’s (G20) first public program tackling the cultural racketeering crisis. The April 9 webinar, Protection of Cultural Heritage and the Prevention of Illicit Trafficking, opened a series of virtual events that will lead up to a planned in-person convening of Cultural Ministers from all G20 member states later this year. The Antiquities Coalition was honored to be one of the few non-governmental organizations invited to share its expertise on this important topic along with distinguished individuals and institutions from around the world.

As part of its Presidency of the G20, Italy is organizing these programs to develop recommendations for G20 countries about the risks their markets face from transnational crimes via art and artifacts, including smuggling, money laundering, and terrorist financing. The G20, the lead forum for international economic and financial cooperation, brings together the governments and central bank governors from 19 members including the United States and the European Union. Under Italy, it has prioritized combating the illicit trade, as well as other threats facing cultural heritage such as climate change. 

“The G20 is in a unique position to make a difference,” Lehr noted during the April 9 meeting,  because “together its membership accounts for 90% of the worldwide art market.” She stressed that while past efforts to combat cultural racketeering dealt almost exclusively with cultural ministries, only a whole-of-government approach and international cooperation will be effective. She commended the G20, under Italy’s leadership, “for recognizing the need for political will at the top to halt this pillaging of history and the robbing of the economic vitality of countries dependent upon cultural tourism.”

The webinar featured prominent policymakers and leaders of international organizations including Dario Franceschini, Minister of Culture of the Italian Republic; Brigadier General Roberto Riccardi, Commander of the Carabinieri for the Protection of Cultural Heritage; Corrado Catesi, Head of the INTERPOL Works of Art Unit; and Maria Chiara Malaguti, President of UNIDROIT; as well as senior representatives from the World Customs Organization, the International Criminal Court, and UNESCO. Lehr presented alongside top experts from a wide range of countries, including Italy, Australia, Belgium, China, France, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Syria, and Turkey. Of the over 30 speakers in the session, she stood out as being one of the only American participants. 

As G20 considers where it can best target its efforts, Lehr recommended five actions that it should take as an institution or through its members: 

  • Better Understand the Problem. The lack of reliable statistics on the size of the illicit trade has hampered governments abilities to take the appropriate actions. Therefore, the G20 could make a major impact by commissioning research to quantify crimes in art and antiquities. This work would also be furthered by encouraging G20 members to be vigilant in tracking and reporting on their own statistics.
  • An Awareness Campaign. The G20 could use its platform to help policymakers, the private sector, and the general public better understand the threats from cultural racketeering and why it is important to only buy antiquities with a verified provenance. 
  • Strengthening the Legal Framework. The international legal framework for dealing with the illicit trade was developed in the 1970s. It is time to upgrade conventions and create new institutions, while encouraging member countries to review their own laws and regulations. 
  • Capacity Building. It is not easy to recognize an ancient amphora from a recent one. Training border patrol and customs officials, as well as designated dedicated investigators and prosecutors, can make a significant difference. The Carabinieri—considered the gold standard—demonstrate what an impact this can make.
  • Commit to Continuing Action. A statement in the final communiqué would send a strong message that top global leaders are dedicated to stamping out this crime.

In addition, the Antiquities Coalition proposed hosting an annual summit of the key players, including countries of origin and market countries, law enforcement, the private sector and others. Such an event, held on the margins of the G20, would provide an opportunity for key stakeholders to find ways to work together in support of our shared goal—stopping the robbing of our shared heritage.

The Italian G20 Presidency held two more culture webinars this week, on April 12 and April 13.

To watch Lehr’s remarks, visit here (at the 1:43:20–1:48:20 timestamp).

To watch the full webinar recordings and view the program of events, visit here.

Algerian Minister of Culture and Arts Commends Antiquities Coalition’s Efforts in Developing Manuscript Digitization Webinar Series

Algerian Minister of Culture and Arts Malika Bendouda joined Antiquities Coalition Co-founder and Project Director Peter Herdrich on March 3 in welcoming participants to “Digitization Strategy at the National Level,” the first of a series of webinars on the regional digitization of cultural heritage collections produced through the collaboration of the Antiquities Coalition and the Algerian Ministry of Culture and Arts. The webinar series is sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Algiers, and Adam Sigelman of the Embassy served as session moderator. 

Following the webinar, the Algerian Ministry of Culture and Arts issued a press release summarizing Bendouda’s opening message, including her praise for Herdrich and the Antiquities Coalition.

The original press release, written in Arabic, can be found here on the Algerian Ministry of Culture and Art’s Facebook page. The U.S. Embassy in Algiers has helpfully provided an English translation, featured below:

On Wednesday, the Minister of Culture and Arts, Mrs. Malika Bin Douda, launched the first visual conference on digitization, as part of a series of virtual conferences on “Regional Digitization of Cultural Heritage Collections”.

The Minister saluted the efforts of the participants from neighboring countries (Tunisia, Morocco, Libya and Mauritania), as well as Mr. Peter Herdrich, founder of the Antiquities Coalition, director of the cultural heritage preservation project, and his team.

The Minister also praised the efforts of Mr. Adam Sigelman, in charge of cultural programs at the American Embassy in Algiers.

The Minister highlighted the efforts of the cultural heritage preservation project team, in order to preserve cultural heritage and heritage collections in North Africa, and to value heritage through the digitization mechanism.

The Minister saluted the support of the U.S. Embassy Algiers and its role in strengthening bilateral cooperation between the two countries in several strategic projects and their impact in helping to widen the cooperation of the two other fields. 

In the same context, the Minister praised the role played by the officers in the U.S. Embassy Algiers, in promoting Algerian culture and heritage through social media, especially, Adam Sigelman, Salman Haji and Khaled Wulfsberg.

The Minister stressed that Algeria is a pivotal country in the North African region that has its own rare collection of books and manuscripts, whether from the region or from the world.

The Minister affirmed that throughout history the manuscript and books have received the necessary importance and care, whether through codification and authorship, or through preservation and preservation, even by traditional methods and mechanisms, in order to perpetuate knowledge and transfer work and thought to future generations.

The Minister pointed out that the culture and arts sector has recently made several reforms in order to promote and value culture, especially through the use of information and communication technologies in cultural performance, in an effort to open up to this world. She stated that this could be a solid bridge for the cultural sector to enter the world of cultural economy and invest in it on the one hand. As the best way to take the new generation into interest in culture and consolidating national identity, on the other hand.

For more information about the Antiquities Coalition’s key role in developing this webinar series, read our blog post here.

The Antiquities Coalition and the Egyptian Heritage Rescue Foundation Offer Free Virtual Training on Manuscript Preservation

The Antiquities Coalition and the Egyptian Heritage Rescue Foundation have organized a free capacity building virtual training session on manuscript preservation, sponsored by our partners at the U.S. Embassy in Algiers. Mr. Abdelhamid Salah, EHRF chairman and expert trainer, will lead a training session on manuscripts with EHRF’s experts, Amira Sedik and HebatAllah AbdelHamid, including information about conservation, stabilization, and how to prepare for inventory and digitization.

The session will be held in Arabic on April 10 at 10:00 a.m. New York (3:00 p.m. Algiers, 4:00 p.m. Cairo) and is open to experts, librarians, and interested members of the public who are working in the field of cultural heritage preservation in the Maghreb.

This training is a direct result of a recent AC three-day virtual conference sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Algiers in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture and the Arts of the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria, on digitization and cultural preservation in the Maghreb region. Over three one-hour sessions, this forum convened national officials, librarians, and heritage experts for a discussion of the challenges and opportunities facing Maghreb countries as they digitize their irreplaceable cultural materials. 

To Sign Up for the Training Session on Manuscript Preservation:

To Read More About the Conference:

To Watch the Public Session on Digitization of Materials in the Maghreb:

يسعدنا انضمامك إلينا يوم 10 أبريل الساعة 10:00 صباحًا نيويورك / 3:00 مساءً الجزائر العاصمة / 4:00 مساءً القاهرة لحضور تدريب افتراضي على حفظ المخطوطات ، يتم تقديمه باللغة العربية.
مجاني ومفتوح لأي ممارسين مهتمين.
تعلن منظمة ” التحالف من أجل الآثار” بالتعاون مع “المؤسسة المصرية لإنقاذ التراث” عن تقديم دورة تدريبية مجانية حول ” بناء القدرات لحفظ المخطوطات
سوف تقدم الدورة تحت أشراف، السيد “عبد الحميد صلاح” رئيس مجلس أمناء المؤسسة المصرية لإنقاذ التراث بالتعاون مع خبراء المؤسسة المصرية لإنقاذ التراث: د. أميرة صديق، د. هبة الله عبدالحميد و د. نجاح رجب..
الدورة التدريبية سوف تتناول المحاور الرئيسية الآتية: :
الحفاظ و تثبيت الحالة الراهنة.
توثيق ورقمنة المخوطات وإعداد قواعد البيانات الرقمية

U.S. Embassy Sponsors Regional Conference and Training with Antiquities Coalition to Preserve Maghreb Manuscripts

In a project sponsored by the US Embassy in Algiers, the Antiquities Coalition completed a three-day virtual conference in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture and the Arts of the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria, on digitization and cultural preservation in the Maghreb region. Over three one-hour sessions, this forum convened national officials, librarians, and heritage experts for a discussion of the challenges and opportunities facing Maghrebi countries as they digitize their irreplaceable cultural materials. Participants from Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia attended.

One result of the conference was the immediate implementation of a new training program for all interested Arabic speakers. The Antiquities Coalition and its partner, the Egyptian Heritage Rescue Foundation (EHRF), will offer training on the conservation, stabilization, inventory, and digitization of manuscripts. EHRF Director Abdelhamid Salah will lead the free, online webinar. The session will be held on April 10 and is open to experts, librarians, and interested members of the public who are working in the field of cultural heritage preservation in the Maghreb.

Algeria’s Minister of Culture and the Arts, H.E. Malika Bendouda opened the conference by saluting the efforts of the participants from neighboring countries of Tunisia, Morocco, Libya and Mauritania.  “This virtual event is very important in many ways. It brought together experts from across the region to discuss the contemporary subject of digitization of some of the world’s oldest and most revered objects, the cultural patrimony held by Algeria and our neighbors. And with the immediate follow-up training, we are doing something about it through regional cooperation and capacity building.”

The first session, moderated by Adam Sigelman of the U.S. Embassy in Algiers, focused on developing an understanding of how each country approaches digitization of cultural heritage at the national level.

One common challenge faced by all the Maghreb countries, how to protect and digitize privately held rare manuscripts, was at the heart of the second session. This session was open to the public and had viewership from over 100 participants. Through the discussion and a poll of the audience, the top three challenges identified were Technical Skills, Data Management, and Financial Challenges.

The final sessions brought the lessons of the first two sessions together. The expert panel, moderated by Antiquities Coalition Co-Founder and Project Director Peter Herdrich, featured a discussion focused on regional collaboration and capacity building to address challenges common to all countries.

After discussing the importance of regional collaboration and capacity building, Herdrich announced the upcoming virtual training, emphasizing that attendees should feel free to share and invite experts, practitioners, and others who are working on cultural heritage preservation of the Maghreb.

To Watch the Public Session on Digitization of Materials in the Maghreb:

To Sign Up for the Training Session on Manuscript Preservation:

AC Executive Director Tess Davis Condemns Museums Displaying Relics without Provenance in LA Times Article

While working on his doctorate at Burapha University in Thailand, archaeologist Tanongsak Hanwong encountered a surplus of evidence that two massive stone lintels possessed by the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco were rightfully the property of Thailand, journalist Jennifer Lu reported in a March 26 article for the Los Angeles Times.

Beginning in 2016, Tanongsak fought for the repatriation of these lintels and other stolen Thai relics with an online campaign, which drew the attention of Thailand’s government.

Thai officials eventually joined with Tanongsak in 2017 to organize a formal repatriation committee, which discovered that the lintels had almost certainly been unlawfully gouged out of two of Thailand’s protected temples and smuggled abroad sometime after 1959. By the late 1960’s, they had both been purchased by Fifth International Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage and installed in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco—all without any evidence of legal export.

It is important to note that this negligence is not limited to this one case, collector, or museum,  stressed AC Executive Director Tess Davis, whom Lu interviewed for the story. According to Davis, it is an industry-wide problem.

“The next time you go into a museum, see how many antiquities are hacked off at the feet or the head, how few can be pinpointed to a specific location,” Davis told Lu. “In what world, other than the art world, is it so acceptable to buy stolen goods?”

While Brundage died in 1975, existing documentation and photo comparisons offered enough evidence to compel Thai officials to reach out to the U.S. government.

After spending three years fighting repatriation efforts, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco promised in February that it would return the lintels to Thailand. As of March 26, the institution had one more vote to hold before it could complete the deaccessioning process and transfer the lintels to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“It’s not often that we have an opportunity, as individuals or institutions, to right some of history’s wrongs,” Davis told Lu. “It’s never too late to do the right thing.”

Upon receiving the lintels, Thailand plans to exhibit them at the Bangkok National Museum for several months. Their destination thereafter has yet to be determined, but according to Tanongsak, their presence in Thailand will enhance understanding of Khmer culture.

Think Tank Releases Interactive Practicum Lesson Series: “How Can We Advance the Cause of Protecting Cultural Heritage and Antiquities? Leverage Public Awareness Campaigns”

Learn Directly from the Experts with AC’s Newest Think Tank Release

In the Antiquities Coalition Think Tank publication released on February 25, “How Can We Advance The Cause of Protecting Cultural Heritage and Antiquities? Leverage Public Awareness Campaigns,” Claire Buchan Parker—a strategic communications expert, former White House spokesperson, and vice chair of the Antiquities Coalition Board of Directors—creates a blueprint for how to develop a successful public awareness campaign. 

However, how does one actually go about creating and implementing an effective public awareness campaign? It is a practical question for every mission-driven organization—and to answer it, Parker teamed up with Antiquities Coalition Co-founders Deborah Lehr and Peter Herdrich to develop a free video series based on her practicum. The series contains three video lessons, each with an accompanying quiz. Those who complete the practicum receive a digital certificate.

Today, the Antiquities Coalition Think Tank is pleased to release the first of three video lessons, “How to Form an Effective Message.” In this lesson, Parker covers how to develop a specific call to action for your organization, and why doing so is important to a campaign’s success. Click here to begin.

Further lessons will be released across our social media platforms in the near future. In the meantime, the Antiquities Coalition Think Tank wants to hear from you: What are topics you would like to see the Antiquities Coalition raise awareness about? Let us know through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and YouTube.



About the Antiquities Coalition Think Tank

The Antiquities Coalition unites a diverse group of experts in the international campaign against cultural racketeering, the illicit trade in art and antiquities. This plunder for profit funds crime, conflict, and violent extremist organizations around the world. By championing better law and policy, fostering diplomatic cooperation, and advancing proven solutions with public and private partners worldwide, the Antiquities Coalition empowers communities and countries in crisis to safeguard cultural heritage for future generations. 

Launched in 2016, the Antiquities Coalition Think Tank joins forces with international experts, including leaders in the fields of preservation, business, law, security, and technology, to bring high-quality, results-oriented research to the world’s decision-makers, especially those in the government and private sectors. Policy briefs strive to strengthen policy makers’ understanding of the challenges facing collective human heritage, and to help them develop better solutions to protect it. The views expressed in these policy briefs are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Antiquities Coalition.

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