Further attempts at protecting Syrian heritage

Posted on: November 19, 2014 by

The US Congress will soon be entertaining a Bill, proposed last Thursday, that seeks to offer protection for endangered Syrian cultural objects and that would set up a Coordinator for International Cultural Property Protection (what American cultural heritage lawyer Rick St. Hilaire calls a cultural property protection “czar”).

These are of course welcome developments. The protection for endangered Syrian cultural objects would come in the form of emergency import restrictions to stop looted and smuggled antiquities entering the US from Syria. The Bill is required because under the current US law, the Cultural Property Implementation Act, the US will only impose import restrictions on cultural property from nations that have officially asked the US for such protection. As St. Hilaire reports, this is obviously impossible with respect to divided and war-ravaged Syria.

It is also important to remember that in the UK import controls were enacted in regards to looted Syrian antiquities in August 2014, prompted by an EU Council Regulation of 2013. The Export Control (Syria Sanctions) (Amendment) Order 2014 SI 2014 1896 prohibits the import, export, transfer, or provision of brokering services for the import, export or transfer, of Syrian cultural property (and certain other goods), where there are reasonable grounds to suspect they have been removed illegally or without the consent of their owner.

On the international front, in 2013 the International Council of Museums (ICOM) drafted an Emergency Red List of Syrian Cultural Objects at Risk meant to assist art and heritage professionals, as well as law enforcement, in identifying Syrian artefacts at risk.

UNESCO also provides a helpful online database of all that is being done to protect Syrian culture amidst the dreadful situation.

With the conflict in Iraq and Syria still raging, we can only hope that these (small yet important) measures can help stem the black market trade in illicit cultural property. Because where there is no trade, there is almost no incentive to loot.