The Latest

Combating Cultural Crimes: Where Are We Now?

April 26, 2019

On April 18, World Heritage Day, representatives from federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, research institutions, and the private sector came together for a panel discussion on “Combating Cultural Crimes: Where Are We Now?” The Antiquities Coalition was honored to co-sponsor this public event with the MEI, Washington’s oldest think tank and cultural center dedicated to the Middle East.

The event also marked the release of #CultureUnderThreat: Three Years Later, an update to the 2016 task force report, #CultureUnderThreat: Recommendations to the U.S. Government. The report called for new policies, practices, and priorities to reduce heritage destruction and looting, end impunity for cultural crimes, and sever this key source of funding for violent extremist groups. The update, published on the three-year anniversary of the original report, details the present status of each original recommendation.

The panel discussion celebrated successes, identified future challenges, and advocated for further change in the continuous fight against cultural racketeering. To watch the taped panel discussion, click here.

Key takeaways included:

  • Need for Buy-in and Support of Local Communities: Arlene Fleming, Cultural Resource and Development Specialist at the World Bank, stressed the importance of engaging with local communities to conserve cultural patrimony and indicated that without such support, antiquities and artifacts will never be protected. She drew on her personal experiences in the Middle East, including ongoing reconstruction efforts in Iraq.
  • Art Market Reform is Necessary and Happening: Laura Patten, Specialist Leader at Deloitte Financial Advisory Services LLP and former Special Agent of the FBI Art Crime Team, spoke about how the art market is increasingly calling for due diligence and how such practices provide a competitive edge to legitimate dealers.
  • Violent Extremists Use Looting and Destruction of Cultural Heritage for Propaganda and Profit: Larry Schwartz, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, reaffirmed the connection between violent extremists and cultural racketeering. Not only do these armed groups destroy and loot as a means for profit, but also as a powerful propaganda tool.
  • Cultural Heritage and Patrimony and Central to National Identity: Domenic DiGiovanni, Vice President of Red Arch, spoke about the social and ideological consequences of cultural racketeering. Using anecdotes from his experiences in Latin America and India, he emphasized the symbolism artifacts often hold. Cultural heritage is important to national identity and cohesiveness, especially during times of political unrest or conflict.