To support this important work, an international coalition of experts released Safeguarding Cultural Heritage in Conflict Zones: A Roadmap for the G20 to Combat the Illicit Trade in Cultural Objects.
This evidenced-based report puts forward nine specific recommendations to strengthen global policy against the looting and trafficking of cultural objects, a transnational crime closely linked to war and terrorism. It highlights risks posed by the illicit trade through a case study illustrating how armed groups plundered ancient sites in Syria and then laundered cultural objects into unsuspecting global marketplaces. More importantly, based on lessons learned from Syria’s tragedy and others, it calls for new policies, priorities, and practices to be considered by the G20, its Member States, and the private sector as they work together to support the communities victimized by this transnational crime.
The report was developed by leading experts and is being published online by the Antiquities Coalition, a not-for-profit organization and non-partisan think tank, in collaboration with Heritage for Peace.
This year, the Group of Twenty (G20) met in Italy against the backdrop of pandemic, as COVID-19 exacts a human and financial toll that is unprecedented in our lifetimes.
As the G20 considers how to coordinate a global recovery, it is important that it recognize the role cultural heritage plays as a proven driver of economic growth and sustainable development. Worldwide, before the public health crisis, the sector generated an estimated US$250 billion in annual revenue and supported 29.5 million jobs. Even with a recession in 2020, the art market alone reached at least $50 billion, of which G20 Member States accounted for over 90 per cent. That multi-billion dollar value makes the art market not just an economic powerhouse, but an attractive target for bad actors, who seek to abuse its long tradition of discretion. Additionally, in many jurisdictions, the sector is not yet subject to standard legal protections covering similar industries of risk and scale. Art is frequently referred to as the largest unregulated market in the world.
These persisting loopholes threaten governments and legitimate businesses alike by enabling corruption, money laundering, and terrorist financing. All of these threats can in turn be furthered by yet another crime that is now on the G20’s radar: the illicit trade in cultural objects. The looting and trafficking of cultural objects, closely linked to armed conflict and violent extremism, is inflicting irreparable harm, on both our world heritage and the legitimate market. Fortunately, under the Italian Presidency, the G20 has prioritized fighting back.
The G20, and especially the Italian Presidency, which began on 1 December 2020, is to be commended for prioritizing people, the planet, and prosperity. As part of that broader mission, Italy is bringing culture to the forefront, taking steps not only to combat the illicit trade in cultural objects, but also other threats facing cultural heritage such as climate change. The G20 is uniquely positioned to lead this campaign, using its unrivaled platform and proven leadership to effect real change as it has with other complex problems including pandemics, climate change, and economic crises.
Italy’s dedication to cultural heritage preservation via strong legislation and collaborative problem-solving has a long history. This Story Map explores the succession of Italic powers, from the 8th century to the present, throughout which the Antiquities Coalition commemorates centuries of cultural heritage preservation in Italy. In it, we also celebrate repeated instances of compromise in times of conflict for the sake of historical preservation and detail the condition of Italian cultural patrimony laws today.