The Latest

From Gulf to Global Impact: United States and Bahrain Spearhead Effort to Strengthen Legal Measures Against Cultural Racketeering

July 1, 2024

Regional Forum Builds on the 2021 Manama Statement of Cooperation Between Both Governments

The illicit trade of art and antiquities is a threat to the preservation of cultural heritage around the world, making strong collaboration across national borders essential to fighting back.

Given that the United States makes up 42% of the global art market, and thus drives demand for antiquities both legal and unfortunately illegal, it’s uniquely positioned to make a difference. However, with a booming art market, the creation of new and prominent museums, and a strong push for cultural tourism, the Gulf States are quickly becoming key players. In particular, the Kingdom of Bahrain is now enjoying a prominent role in the art world, with strong ministerial leadership from the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities (BACA). 

The Antiquities Coalition (AC) and BACA, with generous support from the U.S. Embassy in Manama, were honored to organize the “2024 Forum on the Legal Framework for Cultural Heritage Protection.” This seminar brought together national experts, regional partners, and international organizations from February 4–5 at the Bahrain National Museum. It built directly on the 2021 Manama Statement, which strengthened bilateral ties between both governments in the fight against the illicit trade in cultural property. 

“Our strong partnership with the government of Bahrain on cultural preservation is a reflection of the breadth and strength of the U.S.-Bahrain relationship. We are blending cooperation on security, combating transnational crime, and cultural protection as two nations that are committed to respect for our common humanity,” said U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain, Steven Bondy, as he opened the event. 

The first day of the event focused on presentations explaining the current domestic law, proposed amendments, and relevant regional and international laws and best practices. On the second day, workshops explored: how the country’s developing cultural property law complements laws in key market jurisdictions, especially the United States, and fits within the global legal framework; how to strengthen international law enforcement cooperation; and how to build a responsible art market and museum community for the 21st century. 

Most participants attended in person from Bahrain and the wider Gulf, but the hybrid format allowed key individuals to join from the United States, as well as some international observers from around the world.

While this forum is an important step, there is work to be done to continue these collaborative efforts around the globe and foster a stronger international approach to the fight against this illicit trade. 

“This forum, the first of its kind, allows experts to present and discuss key topics related to national and international law, to determine challenges and opportunities. Through this action, Bahrain and the United States will not only be following up on the commitments made in the Manama Statement, but filling an urgent need to better understand and collaborate on strengthening the legal framework, which we hope will serve as an inspiration for others in the region and the world.” -Tess Davis, Executive Director, Antiquities Coalition

The United States and Bahrain will continue working towards our shared goal of cultural heritage protection.  This is a topic covered during the annual U.S.-Bahrain strategic dialogue and at a working level between law enforcement, academia, museums, and cultural institutions.  Ongoing communication and increased awareness of the illicit trafficking in cultural properties are essential to combating this practice. The AC looks forward to supporting this critical collaboration.

Learn more: