Saturday 27 December 2014

The Looting Epidemic: The Greatest Threat to Cultural Heritage in Syria

“As long as it will be chic and  posh
for you to
have an archaeological 
piece in your living room
that guests can
admire, we’ll be talking about this.
We need
to get this message across that it’s a crime. 
Collecting looted antiquities is a white-collar
. People have died for this. People
buying looted artifacts from Syria are feeding 
insurgencies, the purchase of arms, financing of 
foreign extremists and mercenaries and 
other types of criminality.”

Franklin Lamb visiting Professor of International Law at the Faculty of Law, Damascus University has an opinion piece in counterpunch The Looting Epidemic: The Greatest Threat to Cultural Heritage in Syria.
Can the worst patrimonial disaster since World War II be stopped? During the 45 months of the Syrian crisis, war damage inflicted from all sides has created massive damage to our shared global cultural heritage that has been in the custody of the Syrian people for more than ten millennia. Few would dispute the fact that the level of destruction of Syria’s archaeological sites has become catastrophic. Unauthorized excavations plunder and the traffic in cultural goods in Syria is a serious and escalating problem and threatens the cultural heritage of us all. Due to illicit excavations, many objects have already been lost to science and society.Today, the single greatest threat to our cultural heritage in Syria is looting.
Sadly, this is in general a rather superficial account, some of the information could have been presented in a more nuanced manner. He sees the remedy both in public opinion (see above) but closer regulation of the no-questions-asked antiquities market.
In addition, a new law in Germany could point the way forward. This will require a certified export license for an antiquity in order to secure an import license. The dealers will inevitably argue that it presumes guilt, but it doesn’t, any more than hygiene certificates for food do. And it won’t be perfect – there will still be forged certificates, but it’ll make a big difference according to Sam Hardy a London based antiquities researcher and blogger.
He is less enamoured with the Convention itself that this new legislation would implement:
There are two main agreements that deal with looted and trafficked antiquities. One is the 1970 UNESCO convention, which from an international law perspective is weak and exacts at most a slap on the wrist for violators. A stronger convention is the 1995 UNIDROIT convention. It potentially could enforce more robust international law. Yet, for this very reason far fewer countries have ratified this convention fearing it might target their citizens, auction houses and museums. Moreover, quite frequently the law is different in the source country from which artifacts are looted than in the country to which it’s smuggled or in which it is sold. A defense lawyers dream come true.
Lamb is on the ground in Syria, here's a few other things he's written:

'Palmyrenes: Risking Their Lives To Preserve Our Global Cultural Heritage'  30 March, 2014

'Syrian Students Restore Our Global Heritage, Tesserae by Tesserae….', 15 June, 2014

It’s Not Too Late to Save Syria’s Cultural Heritage
…if we can muster the will, Counter.... October 10-12, 2014 

'Claims that Aleppo’s Synagogues have been destroyed are false' December 18, 2014

Lamb is author of the forthcoming 'Syria’s Endangered Heritage, An international Responsibility to Protect and Preserve', Orontes River Publishing, Hama, Syrian Arab Republic.

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