News

UN Security Council Takes Aim at ISIS Antiquities Trafficking

The Decumanus Maximus at the ancient site of Palmyra in the Syrian desert, which has been extensively looted. (photo by Bernard Gagnon via Wikimedia Commons)
The Decumanus Maximus at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Palmyra in the Syrian desert, which has been targeted by looters. (photo by Bernard Gagnon via Wikimedia Commons)

Last week the United Nations Security Council adopted a new resolution to curb the trade of looted antiquities from Iraq and Syria. UN Security Council Resolution 2199 prohibits the trade of artifacts illegally removed from Syria since 2011 and Iraq since 1990. Its aim is to contain the revenue that terrorist organizations, including ISIS, receive from dealing in looted antiquities, taking hostages, and selling oil.

The resolution mandates that “all Member States shall take appropriate steps to prevent the trade in Iraqi and Syrian cultural property and other items of archaeological, historical, cultural, rare scientific, and religious importance illegally removed from Iraq since 6 August 1990 and from Syria since 15 March 2011, including by prohibiting cross-border trade in such items, thereby allowing for their eventual safe return to the Iraqi and Syrian people.”

Drafted by Russia and co-sponsored by the US along with its allies in Europe, the resolution was adopted last week with the support of all 15 members of the UN Security Council, Bloomberg reported. Unsurprisingly, the move was met with enthusiasm by the director general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova.

“The destruction of the unique cultural heritage of Syria and Iraq is a loss for all humanity and it is our common responsibility to stand up for its protection,” she said in a statement. “This resolution acknowledges that cultural heritage stands on the front line of conflicts today, and it should be placed at the front line of security and political response to the crisis.” Last spring, as ISIS advanced across Iraq, UNESCO warned of the potential threats to the country’s cultural sites.

Though the value of its antiquities-dealing activities remains unknown — and disputed — there’s no doubt that ISIS is partly funded through the international market for ancient cultural artifacts. Meanwhile, according to a BBC report, ISIS makes between $846,000 and $1.645 million every day from sales of oil taken from Syria and Iraq, and the group received at least $20 million in ransom payments for hostages in 2014.

“What we have from the satellite imagery is that there is industrial-scale looting all over Syria,” archaeologist and Boston University professor Michael Danti told Foreign Policy last October, estimating that ISIS’s revenue from sales of looted antiquities could be its second most lucrative activity after selling oil.

While the UN resolution seeks to curb the international trade in looted antiquities, similar measures are afoot in the US. Congressman Bill Keating, a Democratic Representative from Massachusetts, is working on a bill to increase the enforcement of antiquities anti-trafficking laws within the US.

“We are a nation of other nations, and above all we should understand that,” Keating told ARTINFO. “When you look at trying to preserve these important cultural artifacts, I think we appreciate it more in our country because so much of it is part of our own history as well.”

comments (0)