In this week’s Utalk, a question from Lesley in London: “How can looted antiquities from Iraq and Syria, for instance, still end up on the art market worldwide, despite the existence of several international conventions designed to protect world heritage?”
Zeynep Boz, from the United Nations’ Section for Cultural Heritage Protection Treaties answers: “Preventing illicit trafficking in general is our daily task: I mean we’re being vigilant on any country’s cultural property which might be illicitly exported, but for Iraq and Syria we have specific people working on this issue.
“International conventions are quite important, but we should keep in mind that they are the starting point, and the next point is their implementation at national level.
“It’s also very important to know that cultural properties are not like drugs or arms. For drugs for example, in customs, you have sniffer dogs, or you have metal detectors for arms, but it’s not possible for cultural property. In general we’re talking about very small artifacts which can be hidden very easily on people travelling.
“Nowadays we’re luckier because there is a huge political interest on the protection of cultural heritage in conflicting countries.
“I’d like to highlight the UN resolution 2199 here because it brings a worldwide moratorium on Iraqi and Syrian artifacts. In this case we promote ‘due diligence’ practices. Due diligence is the term which shows the care that you show on an artifact before buying it or before offering into sale. This resolution also brings sanctions for illicit trafficking of cultural artifacts – the same sanctions that with oil smuggling.”