UNSC Monitoring Team recommendation: moratorium on trade in undocumented antiquities from Syria or Iraq

Peter Campbell (@peterbcampbell) has broken the news that, in a Letter (1) to the Chair of the United Nations Security Council Committee on Al-Qaida and Associated Individuals and Entities, the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team has recommended ‘a world-wide moratorium on the trading of antiquities from the Syrian Arab Republic or Iraq since the passing of resolution 2170 (2014) that lack clear, certified provenance‘.

In a strategic assessment of sources of funding (V. A. – paragraph 54, page 19), the Monitoring Team considers that

Security Council sanctions could be an important global instrument to disrupt both ISIL and ANF. In the case of ISIL, sanctions can help squeeze revenue options for the group by disrupting the sale of secific commoddities (for example, crude oil and antiquities). In the case of ANF, sanctions can be used to target external financiers and crack down on illicit ransom payments made in breach of the Al-Qaida sanctions regime….

Specifically regarding the Islamic State (V. B. 3. – paragraphs 72-73, pages 23-24), the Monitoring Team states that,

On the issue of antiquities looting, the Monitoring Team has consulted with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Customs Organization (WCO) and relevant academic and other experts. Open-source reporting also indicates that ISIL has been generating income by plundering antiquities in Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic. There is evidence that ISIL encourages the looting and subsequent smuggling of Iraqi and Syrian antiquities, especially from archaeological sites. ISIL earns revenue by taxing the looters.The looting has become more systematic and organized. For example, it has been reported that ISIL has become more involved in the digging and uses contractors with bulldozers to dig at the sites. Excavated objects are then sold to local dealers. Already in January 2014, the Directorate General of Museums and Antiquities of the Syrian Arab Republic reported that 300 people were digging at the important Dura Europos site.

This is a growing but not a new risk. Antiquities have been plundered in Iraq before, and were the cause of a specific Security Council response in 2003. Resolution 1483 (2003) includes a provision requiring Member States to take measures facilitating the return of Iraqi cultural property illegally removed from Iraq since 1990, “including by establishing a prohibition on trade in or transfer of such items and items with respect to which reasonable suspicion exists that they have been illegally removed”. Although the looting and sale of antiquities is a known risk, it is very difficult to reliably estimate the amount of money that ISIL raises through this activity, and the Monitoring Team has not received officially confirmed information pointing to a particular sale that was clearly ISIL-related. Furthermore, there is a risk that local dealers will stockpile the artefacts until the world is no longer focused on this issue. On this basis, the Monitoring Team recommends a preventative approach….

On the al-Nusra Front (V. C. – paragraph 84, page 27), the Monitoring Team notes that

There are indications that ANF may be extracting or seeking to generate revenue from antiquities smuggling. Given the Syrian Arab Republic’s rich cultural heritage, and assuming that ANF requires continuing income to secure essential supplies, any move to contain such revenue would be highly valuable….

Intriguingly, that was information ‘provided by a Member State and an international organization’.
In terms of recommendations (VII. – paragraph 94, page 29), the Monitoring Team proposes

a limited international moratorium on the trade of antiquities that may have been illegally looted in the Syrian Arab Republic or Iraq by ISIL or ANF and… a preventative embargo on flights destined to land in or taking off from ISIL- or ANF-controlled territory (with a Council-managed exemption procedure to allow for humanitarian or other traffic authorized by the Council)… to disrupt revenue to ISIL and ANF….

Specifically (VII. B. – recommendation 6, page 32),

The Monitoring Team, noting that ANF and ISIL may generate revenue from the smuggling and sale of antiquities illegally taken from the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic or Iraq, recommends that the Chair request the Security Council to mandate a world-wide moratorium on the trading of antiquities from the Syrian Arab Republic or Iraq since the passing of resolution 2170 (2014) that lack clear, certified provenance. Although such a moratorium would not eliminate the criminal market for smuggled antiquities, this ban should disrupt the market for antiquities from the Syrian Arab Republic and build on prior Security Council measures in the case of Iraq, depressing potential ANF and ISIL revenues.

In every sense unfortunately, I’m currently checking a new video of the ruins of two Yezidi temples, which were destroyed by the Islamic State, but I’ll try to at least share news as and when it emerges (though I’d still recommend following Paul Barford (@PortantIssues) and Peter Campbell).

1: It was sent by the Monitoring Team on the 3rd of November, and registered by the Security Council Committee on the 14th of November as S/2014/815.

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