Wednesday 8 June 2022

Clooney Foundation for Justice on Antiquities Trade [UPDATED]

The Clooney Foundation for Justice was has just published the results of their investigation (The Docket) into the international networks responsible for the looting and smuggling of thousands of antiquities from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. This shows how the trade in these stolen artifacts funds war crimes and terrorism.
The destruction and plunder of cultural heritage in the Middle East is being committed on a scale not seen since World War II. Such pillage robs communities of their history and undermines prospects for post-conflict economic recovery. Funds generated from the antiquities trade are also used by armed groups to purchase weapons, recruit and compensate members, and support their violent operations. Indeed, for ISIS, looted antiquities have reportedly become one of its main sources of revenue.

Yet the global illegal trade in antiquities is a crime that usually goes undetected, unreported, uninvestigated, and unprosecuted. By collecting evidence to trigger cases against those complicit in pillaging cultural heritage, The Docket strives to cut off conflict antiquities as a source of conflict financing. We support or trigger prosecutions against antiquities dealers who are complicit in war crimes and represent the interests of victims of these crimes.

In 2020, The Docket launched a multi-country investigation tracking the smuggling of antiquities from Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen into European markets and the United States. Through extensive open-source and field research we have prepared investigative files on key individuals and entities involved in the antiquities trade in France, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, and the United States and have established relations with the relevant law enforcement authorities to trigger the prosecutions of these individual as accomplices to war crimes and financing of terrorism.
The section on 'Human Cost of Antiquities Looting' is however disturbingly and tellingly focussed on the US obsession with ISIL, though the report also it looks at several key areas and issues including 'impact on women' and 'impact on minority groups' which is welcome. The full report however is only 69 pages, padded out with lots of pictures (available by clicking here (it doesn't seem to be downloadable).

Here's a promotional video:
Film posted on You tube by Clooney Foundation for Justice
Key Findings From the Report

In Syria, tens of thousands of items have been pillaged from archaeological sites and at least 40,635 items have been looted from museums, including mosaics, relief sculptures, ceramic, stone, and alabaster sculptures, ceramic and bronze tablets, steles, jewelry, and coins.
In Iraq, Daesh extensively pillaged the city of Mosul in northern Iraq, including its universities, libraries, and museums; the archeological sites of Nineveh and Nimrud, as well as religious sites associated with Yazidi, Christian, and Muslim communities.
In Libya, the pillage of cultural property occurred predominantly in the eastern and northern regions, including the UNESCO sites of Cyrene and religious sites associated with Sufi communities in Tripoli.
In Yemen, ongoing pillage has targeted major museums and archeological sites, including an estimated 12,000 items looted from the Dhamar Museum, 16,000 items from the Military Museum in Sana’a, and 120,000 items from the national museum in Sana’a.


Looted antiquities from Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen arrive to the European markets via complex international networks that include dealers, smugglers, intermediaries, and brokers across North Africa, the Middle East, the Gulf countries, Asia, Eastern Europe and the Horn of Africa.
The two main routes for antiquities originating in Iraq and Syria are Turkey and Lebanon. The Docket’s research showed both remain active to date. From Libya, looted antiquities are mainly smuggled via Egypt and Tunisia.
From Yemen, the artifacts are mainly smuggled through the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the Horn of Africa.
Other transit portals are East European countries, such as Bulgaria and Romania, as well as Thailand, Jordan, Kuwait, Israel, and Singapore.

Complicity in War Crimes:

International networks which have been on the radar of law enforcement agencies for decades have so far managed to avoid any significant consequences for their criminal activity.
The Docket has shared evidence with law enforcement agencies in jurisdictions with links to these individuals through their nationality, residency, or business transactions.
Most European countries’ criminal codes contain provisions that would allow to prosecute the dealers as either accomplices to war crimes and other international crimes or as financers of terrorist activity.
Only criminal prosecutions resulting in significant financial losses and custodial sentences are likely to create the necessary deterrent effect to disrupt the illegal trade, prevent further looting, and stem the flow of funds into the hands of terrorist and other armed groups".
To be honest, I only skimmed their report ("Docket"). In my computer it opens in a window within a frame, it apparently cannot be enlarged full screen, is not searchable, and much of the print is in grey on a tinted background, this coupled with the fact that a lot of the important details (such as the actual source of some of the documents figured) are in such tiny grey print that I found them tiring to read. On one page (48) the artsy coloured tinting simply obscures the text. The whole thing is referenced like some 19th century Prussian treatise by 480 endnotes set in tiny print in an offputting dense block with no spacing between them and justified to both margins. I'm not wading through that and could not say what literature they are citing. The text's authors names are not given. It seems they are treating the Abu Sayyaf documents as authentic (as I have explained on this blog, I believe they were fakes planted with the artefacts that were said to have been seized in the same raid). The whole text is very US-centred, the same informants being cited, cases already well-known in the literature.  Evidence that does not match their narrative is skipped (Apamea a case in point).  

Update 10.06.2022
The usual story of a body launching something before it is actually ready and completed. The website now gives access to a downloadable pdf of the full report that was not there when I wrote this. It seems to me that this text is the same as the report summary that was on the website... all very confusing/ed. My other points remain, appalling layout.  

Update Update 16.06.2022

They've moved, and it seems changed, the document once again... Who knows, if for the last time?

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