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The obvious links between Terrorism and Trafficking of Cultural Goods

By Spc. Gregory Gieske [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

"Terrorist groups like ISIL exploit cultural sites to finance their activities while strengthening their linkages with transnational organized crime" (UN Briefing March 24,2017). International bodies such as the UN, the UNESCO, INTERPOL and many others agree in saying that illicit sale of cultural objects stolen from museums or looted from archaeological sites has become a major problem. The huge sums of money proceeding from such illicit trafficking - estimated between $3.4 billion and $6.3 billion annually worldwide (Fig. Financial Integrity)- are partly used to fund arms deals and extremist activities. The European Commission has identified for some time the main issues that must be addressed, and among them a lack of information and data on trafficking in cultural goods and continuing difficulties in sharing information between relevant authorities. It is true that obtaining reliable informations from war-torn countries such as Syria and Irak is an almost impossible mission. The chaos and disorganization that reign in these countries are making the work related to the protection of the cultural property very challenging. In view of this difficult context, the EU decided a few days ago to get tougher on illegal import and trafficking of cultural goods to finance terrorism. Among these new rules which should be adopted as quickly as possible, the most significant ones are the following. Firstly, the drawing-up of a new common definition for cultural goods at importation, including archaeological finds, ancient manuscripts, artworks and antiques. Secondly, the introduction of a new licensing system for the import of such goods. Finally, customs authorities will have the power to seize and retain cultural goods when it cannot be demonstrated that these goods have been legally exported. The G20 at its last meeting on 7 and 8 July 2017 called for countries "to address all alternative sources of financing terrorism, including looting and smuggling of antiquities". On this issue, it seems that a majority of countries in the world can agree!

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