Friday, 16 November 2012

Taking a Closer Look at the Trade

NBC News has an item about a proposed New 'intelligence' body to fight illicit trade in world's priceless treasures. "The illegal trade in looted cultural artefacts is vast, poorly policed and highly profitable [...]  Groups like the Taliban and al-Qaida are thought to raise funds in this way with suggestions that smuggling art and antiquities is the world's third most common form of trafficking after drugs and weapons, worth $6 billion or more a year":
NBC News has learned that a new international body to gather "intelligence" about the illicit sale of some of the world's most beautiful and historic objects is set to be established. [...]  The new body, to be called the International Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods, would try to improve cooperation between Interpol and law enforcement agencies, world cultural body UNESCO, research institutions and other groups, and establish the "best practice" to fight this form of crime. It would also create a database of publicly available information, and seek to improve monitoring and research. The France-based International Council of Museums is behind the new body, but is waiting for formal approval of funding from the European Commission.
ICOM felt it needed a lot more reliable information and recent analyses of trends, the need for 'intelligence' when fighting organized criminal activity.

This announcement that there would be some scrutiny of business partners seems to have got some in the antiquities trade worried. Lobbying blogger Peter Tompa on behalf of the dugup antiquity dealers wrote about it last night ('Big Brother Will Be Watching You') and described it as ICOM's "effort to gain funding from the cash poor EU to help promote its continuing propoganda [sic] effort against the antiquities trade and at the same time perhaps provide some additional gainful employment for academics with an axe to grind against collectors". He complains that this "looks to be little more than a state sponsored version of Wikiloot"  (presumably the name is used in a pejorative sense). Typically he moans that instead of investigating the networks of supply of the antiquities trade:
Any funding would be better spent on promoting more effective enforcement in source countries, and better yet more liberal laws in such countries that actually promote the public to get involved in preserving heritage
So his answer is more liberal laws to allow looting to take place legally, thus automatically removing the stigma of illegality from the trade and its trading partners and cutting crime statistics at a stroke of a pen! Obviously then the next step in this model of "fighting organized criminal activity" is to legalise human trafficking, the drug and weapons trade, the movement of stolen goods such as vehicles (and artworks). then we'll all be living in a happy wonderland of "small businesses" rather than criminal networks. In  general you will rarely meet any arguments more stupid  than on the websites of antiquity dealers and collectors.

I would say that gathering information about criminal activity involving cultural property is indeed a step towards promoting more effective enforcement in source as well as 'market' countries.

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