Sep 08, 2016

Amman, Jordan – Seventeen countries from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and the League of Arab States convened today to launch an aggressive action plan to combat antiquities looting and the illicit trade in cultural heritage.  At the ministerial-level #CultureUnderThreat Conference in Amman, the Middle East and North Africa Task Force Against Cultural Racketeering held its inaugural meeting.  The task force finalized a region-wide initiative to increase law enforcement training, raise awareness, and make use of the international remedies in the fight against the campaign by Daesh and other violent extremist organizations to use plundered heritage to fund their terrorist activities.

“We are building capacity, enhancing the ability of authorities, raising awareness, and meeting regularly to prevent the illicit trade,” said Jordan’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nasser Judeh. “This is a starting point that is sustainable in the region.”

The Government of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the Antiquities Coalition, and the Middle East Institute hosted the second annual #CultureUnderThreat Conference.  The Jordanian Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, Her Excellency Lina Annab, chaired the proceedings. This conference is held on an annual basis to bring together countries and leading experts to coordinate efforts in the fight to combat cultural racketeering.  The high-level meeting concluded with a pledge to work together to put an end to this illicit trade through the Amman Communiqué.

The Communiqué reaffirms the MENA region’s commitment to cooperate in this fight: “crimes against culture are crimes against civilization. They pledge to work together to bring this illicit trade to a halt.”  It builds upon the Cairo Declaration released in 2015 in which ministers from ten countries agreed to take steps to combat cultural crimes.

“This united action will strengthen efforts to stop violent extremist organizations from benefiting from the sale of our shared history,” said Antiquities Coalition Chairman Deborah Lehr. “We congratulate the MENA Task Force Against Cultural Racketeering and pledge our continued support of its goal to preserve the past.”

The MENA Task Force for Cultural Racketeering was formed to coordinate efforts by government, not-for-profits and international institutions in the region to fight against the growing illicit trade in cultural materials. Experts estimate that the illicit trade has netted Daesh and other extremist organizations millions of dollars and has put at risk the millions of archaeological, cultural, and religious sites across the MENA region.

“These leaders recognize that this is not just a cultural crisis, but an economic and security crisis as well,” said Middle East Institute President Wendy Chamberlin. “They see the complexity of the problem and understand that a broad based plan is the best way to achieve our shared goals. This is an initiative that stems from the region and all the countries deserve congratulations for moving it forward. ”

The Task Force put into effect a five-part action for the coming year.

  1. Develop capacity building programs
  2. Explore bilateral Cultural Memoranda of Understanding and strengthen regional collaboration
  3. Establish information sharing mechanisms
  4. Raise awareness about cultural racketeering’s impact on global economics and security
  5. Launch jobs initiatives at heritage sites

The signatories of the Amman Communiqué include 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, the Palestinian Authority, 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.

International experts attended to provide advice and counsel to the task force.  These experts included 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 Initiative; Mr. Jose Angelo Estrella Faria, UNIDROIT; Dr. Patty Gerstenblith, DePaul University College of Law. U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Larry Schwartz also participated.