ICOM International Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods

The International Council of Museums (ICOM) has launched its International Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods. It is a ‘collaborative platform’ for ‘information and resources’ to support the struggle against the looting and trafficking of cultural property. It’s well-designed and well-made (in terms of content as well as style). But how will it cope with controversial matters?

It provides a glossary and guides to good practice, shares case studies and news, enables a search for actors and resources in the field… and lists Cultural Heritage in Conflict and Conflict Antiquities as resources. (… I didn’t search it for myself. Its users had visited this blog before it went public.)

My only concern is an inevitable one: in (geographical or subject) areas that are politically sensitive, where scholarship is politically distorted, ICOM’s resource database (practically unavoidably) reproduces that distortion. So, for example, its resources on Cyprus present Greek Cypriot state data and analysis (or Greek Cypriot data-based analysis).

Even once my postprint and forthcoming articles have been (properly) published, the balance of information on this platform will be an imbalance. It is practically unavoidable (at least in the short-term), but it is something to bear in mind. Otherwise, it will reinforce the misleading data and misguided practices in Cyprus; and, worse, if other countries “learn lessons” from Cypriot materials, it may derail their efforts to combat looting and smuggling.

(I heard about this via the Museum Security Network.)


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