Erin Thompson, professor of art crime at John Jay College of Criminal Justice urges: 'Restrict Imports of Antiquities from Syria to Cut Down on Looting'. She finds it ironic that although Secretary of State John Kerry last month said all the right buzz-words about stopping the Islamic State's destruction of Syria’s cultural heritage (describing how “shocking and historically shameful it would be if we did nothing while the forces of chaos rob the very cradle of our civilization”). The European Union has prohibited the import of antiquities taken from Syria since the beginning of the conflict. But although the market is growing, the US government is not the one doing the most to stop the smuggling of artefacts onto the US market. It’s eBay.
In 1947 and again in 1949, Syria declared national ownership over all the antiquities found within its borders and prohibited their export without a government-issued permit. This makes antiquities taken from Syria without a permit at any time since then stolen property. If you try to sell stolen property on eBay, the site will remove the listing and suspend your account. But if you declare the same antiquities to U.S. Customs, you don’t need to worry. American law does not prohibit the import of antiquities, even if looted and smuggled according to the laws of their countries of origin, unless the U.S. has an agreement with the source country – and there is currently no agreement with Syria.Shame on you. Erin Thompson is the author of the forthcoming book “To Own the Past: How Collectors Reveal, Shape, and Destroy History”. One to watch out for.