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The AC’s Tess Davis Highlights Success in Safeguarding Yemen’s Cultural Heritage at National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations

May 10, 2024

During conflict and instability, the preservation of cultural heritage often takes a backseat. However, for Yemen, a nation grappling with the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, it became critical to safeguard the country’s rich cultural legacy for future generations. 

The ongoing civil war has not only ravaged communities but also put Yemen’s ancient artifacts and archaeological sites at risk of looting and trafficking, exacerbating the devastation caused by the conflict. In 2023, the Republic of Yemen signed a bilateral cultural property agreement with the U.S., committing both countries to combating the illicit trade of antiquities. The agreement will ensure that undocumented objects from Yemen that may have been illegally obtained or exported will not cross U.S. borders. This agreement also helps the U.S. protect responsible American collectors, dealers, and museums from unknowingly contributing to the ongoing conflict in Yemen through the purchase of looted artifacts.

On April 30, Tess Davis, the AC’s Executive Director, participated in “A U.S.-Yemen Case Study in Safeguarding Antiquities and Cultural Heritage Amidst Conflict.” This event, hosted by the National Council on U.S.- Arab Relations, featured Davis alongside political leaders who are diligently working to resolve both the armed conflict and humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Participants included Timothy A. Lenderking, U.S. Special Envoy for Yemen, His Excellency Mohammed Al-Hadhrami, Ambassador of the Republic of Yemen to the United States, and Dr. Jeremie Schiettecatte, Research Fellow at the New York University Institute for Study of the Ancient World.

In his remarks, His Excellency Mohammed Al-Hadhrami underscores the importance of cultural heritage preservation, especially during conflict. The Ambassador also expressed his gratitude to Tess Davis and the AC, sharing how “the Antiquities Coalition helped us navigate this treacherous road from the beginning.” To this, Davis applauds the government of Yemen’s actions in protecting its heritage as it proves “once again the importance of culture to a nation’s identity and history, and how its preservation during times of conflict can provide a sense of continuity and hope for the future.”

In her remarks, Davis highlighted the urgent need for international cooperation in protecting Yemen’s cultural treasures. Davis emphasized that cultural heritage has become a weapon of war, with organized criminals and armed insurgents plundering and smuggling Yemen’s treasures for profit. Davis also shared recommendations that could make an impact in combating racketeering:

  • Continue to recognize the illicit trade is a serious crime and not a victimless one
  • Strengthen the legal framework to combat fraud, money laundering, sanctions evasion, and terrorist financing
  • Follow the money and treat cultural racketeering as a financial crime
  • Cultural racketeering can only be solved by strengthening law enforcement, international cooperation, and market integrity
  • Cultural crimes are atrocity crimes in and of themselves and must be taken seriously by governments

In response to the ongoing cultural racketeering, the AC and the Republic of Yemen released records of 1,631 objects missing from the country’s museums in 2019. Recovering these “blood antiquities” will help Yemen protect its vibrant history. 

The Antiquities Coalition applauds the United States and Yemen for their leadership in protecting cultural heritage and looks forward to our continued collaboration in efforts to combat looting and cultural racketeering. 

Watch the webinar here.