A Call to Action to Protect the World’s Cultural Heritage

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A Call to Action to Protect the World’s Cultural Heritage

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A Call to Action to Protect the World’s Cultural Heritage

September 24, 2015

This call to action is supported by the Antiquities Coalition, Asia Society, Middle East Institute, and UNESCO as a result of the #CultureUnderThreat: Antiquities Trafficking and Terrorist Financing Forum held in NY on Thursday, September 24, 2015 at the Asia Society headquarters. 

Humanity is bound together by the priceless historic treasures which form our shared heritage.  The undersigned strongly condemn the deliberate and targeted acts of cultural destruction, as well as the illicit trade in “conflict antiquities” that further finances the hostilities, by violent extremist organizations in the Middle East and North Africa. We recognize that these attacks against heritage are first and foremost attacks against the population, and as a result, this cultural crisis is inseparable from the humanitarian crisis. We therefore call upon the international community to join forces in a strategic, comprehensive effort to bring a halt to the trade in conflict antiquities and, in doing so, cut off potential sources of terrorist revenue.

Our goal is to ensure that significant cultural objects and sites, representing local as well as shared history, will be saved. Such an initiative will stem funding that supports violent extremist organizations who use the destruction of historical sites and trafficking of antiquities as a means to intimidate those who hold different religious or political views.

We make this call in full support of all efforts to mitigate the massive humanitarian crisis engulfing the region and with full recognition that increased protection of human life is urgently required.

Whereas the United Nations Security Council has confirmed that violent extremist organizations in the Middle East and North Africa are funding themselves through “the looting and smuggling of cultural heritage,” the profits of which are “being used to support their recruitment efforts and strengthen their operational capacity to organize and carry out terrorist attacks;”  

Whereas UNESCO is leading an international mobilization to condemn the intentional destruction of cultural heritage as part of an overall tactic of war amounting to cultural cleansing, and to halt the looting and trafficking of stolen cultural artifacts, working towards the protection of heritage as a security and peacebuilding imperative;

Whereas the intentional destruction of cultural heritage is a severe violation of international conventions and customary law;

Whereas the antiquities and sites now at risk are among the most significant in the world;

Alarmed by the increasing deliberate and targeted threats and attacks against the cultural heritage of countries affected as well as the industrial looting and trafficking in cultural objects;

Condemning the destruction of cultural heritage in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Yemen, and other MENA countries by violent extremist organizations, whether such destruction is incidental or deliberate;

Call upon the United Nations, in particular UNESCO, given the Organization’s special mandate, the Security Council, and all relevant international institutions to formulate action plans to address this crisis;

Call upon the International Criminal Court to launch a war crimes investigation against those entities that engage in “cultural cleansing;”

Call upon the international community to provide funding and expertise to fully support states in protecting, preserving, inventorying and documenting items of cultural heritage endangered by armed conflicts;

Call upon the international community to launch a global campaign raising awareness about the linkages between the illicit trade in conflict antiquities and terrorist financing;

Call upon all governments to strengthen their legislation and to take appropriate steps to prevent the trade in illicit antiquities, including by appointing a senior representative responsible for coordinating national efforts, as well as by prohibiting their import;

Call upon all actors involved in the cultural property trade — including, but not limited to, auction houses, art dealers, art collectors and museum professionals — to be especially vigilant when obtaining antiquities from countries in conflict and reaffirm their commitment to industry ethical standards.


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