Russia is drafting a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution to combat terrorist financing, which will specifically target illicit trading in antiquities by the Islamic State.
Containment of the Islamic State appears to be the primary motivation for the resolution. And Chechen jihadists’ allegiance to the Islamic State – and/or Russia’s disfavour amongst anti-Assadist energy-producing (Gulf) states – is Russia’s primary motivation for writing the resolution.
It is also ‘obviously [offenbar]’ designed to compel action by ‘Turkey, over whose border with Syria and Iraq the trade in crude oil and oil products runs. The resolution would increase pressure on Ankara to stop this trade. [Türkei…, über deren Grenze zu Syrien und dem Irak der Handel mit Rohöl und Ölprodukten läuft. Die Resolution würde den Druck auf Ankara erhöhen, diesen Handel zu unterbinden.]’ The trade in antiquities from Syria and Iraq, too, runs over those borders.
Why combat the financing of terrorist violence, but not paramilitary violence or state violence?
While it has widely been reported as a resolution against the Islamic State, there is at least some suggestion – from diplomats amongst the permanent members of the UNSC – that the resolution will establish new standards for constricting terrorism financing (in general), which will include ‘specific measures to squeeze the finances of terrorist groups including the Islamic State from ransom, oil and antiques [antiquities]’.
Either way, why, then – when armed groups on all sides of the war in Syria are raising funds from the trade in illicit antiquities, and criminal operations in transit and market countries are facilitating and profiting from their supply of conflict antiquities – won’t the resolution establish new standards for constricting conflict financing? Why is Russia drafting a resolution that will apparently not impose the same standards and punishments on those who trade in antiquities from Assadist state forces as it will on those who trade in antiquities from Islamic State militants?
Lots of numbers, no statistics
The resolution ‘will focus on the three main sources of revenue for Islamic State: oil, the sale of antiquities and ransom from kidnappings’. To be crystal clear, even if conflict antiquities were only the Islamic State’s tenth-largest source of revenue, they would still be a source of revenue, and their plunder would still be a loss to the victim community, so their trade should be suppressed regardless.
However, has Russia or any other state provided any evidence whatsoever that antiquities are one of the top three funding sources for the Islamic State? Will they provide such evidence? When will they provide it? Is there any evidence that the Islamic State is raising more money from conflict antiquities than other jihadi militias, the rebel forces or the Assadist state? Are these unevidenced claims being used to make the Assad regime – which uses barrel bombs and chemical weapons and has killed more civilians than any other party to the conflict – appear civilised by comparison, the lesser of four evils?
What’s the difference between boutique antiquities and roadside sausages?
The resolution will establish legally-binding obligations not to buy oil that has been pumped/bunkered, pay ransoms for people who have been kidnapped, or buy antiquities looted/stolen by the Islamic State. New rules will be ineffective without new regulations.
It will be practically impossible to police the trade in conflict antiquities from Syria and Iraq if the trade in ostensibly legal antiquities is not required to demonstrate that its antiquities are indeed clean. That would not reverse the burden of proof and presume that traders were guilty until proven innocent. It would merely require the same level of hygiene in antiquities dealerships that is already expected in sausage factories and roadside stalls.
You might not want to watch a sausage get made, but at least you can find out where it came from and how it was done, and you can be fairly guaranteed that it was done hygienically.