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ICOM launches the Emergency Red List of Syrian Cultural Objects at Risk at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City

ICOM’s 13th Red List will help protect Syrian cultural heritage that has been endangered by current instability in the country.

ICOM launches the Emergency Red List of Syrian Cultural Objects at Risk at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City

Ms Emily K Rafferty, President, Metropolitan Museum; Ms Bonnie Burnham, President, World Monuments Fund; Ms. Irina Bokova, Director General, UNESCO; Dr Thomas P Campbell, Director and CEO, Metropolitan Museum; Dr Richard Kurin, Under Secretary for History, Art and Culture, Smithsonian Institution; and Prof Dr Hans-Martin Hinz, ICOM President.

This Wednesday 25 September, ICOM launched its Emergency Red List of Syrian Cultural Objects at Risk to over 100 attendees at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The publication was developed to fight the trafficking of cultural goods amid reports of widespread looting of Syria’s cultural heritage sites during the present conflict.

ICOM ‘s Red Lists are effective reference tools that illustrate the categories and types of cultural items that are most likely to be traded illegally, helping law enforcement officials and heritage professionals around the world to identify and protect these objects. This will be ICOM’s 13th Red List to date, previous Red Lists have focused on Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Haiti, and many other countries.

Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria, ICOM has been closely monitoring the status of cultural heritage in the country. Realising the urgency of the situation, the ICOM Programmes Department reacted quickly, garnering the support of the US Department of State to create this Emergency Red List in collaboration with experts from around the world.

Explaining her motivation for developing this Red List, France Desmarais, Director of Programmes and Development at ICOM said, “I am hopeful that this tool, if used appropriately, will be key in preventing and hindering the illegal trade of Syria's archaeological objects, as the Afghan Red List has proven helpful in the return of thousands of artefacts to the Kabul Museum.”

ICOM President Prof Dr Hans-Martin Hinz officially presented the Emergency Red List of Syrian Cultural Objects at Risk in the presence of UNESCO Director-General Ms Irina Bokova; Metropolitan Museum Director and CEO, Mr Thomas Campbell; and Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration, Ms Anne Richard. The event was also attended by numerous representatives of the U.S. Department of State, national law enforcement officials, heritage professionals, members of ICOM US and media representatives.

In his remarks, the President pointed out that Red Lists are especially effective tools because of their “efficiency on the long term.” They remain useful for decades because rather than simply providing an inventory of stolen objects, they list cultural objects that are legally protected from commercial trade. “The objects featured in the list today are the same ones that will be in demand on the art market tomorrow,” he explained.

The ICOM President promised to pursue the organisation’s commitment to protecting cultural heritage around the world, stating: “We can be proud to be holding in our hands today one of the rare practical cultural heritage projects that could see the light amidst the Syrian turmoil, but we need to immediately get back to work to try to do more. I confirm that other than the production and dissemination of this Emergency Red List, ICOM stands ready to support actions linked to the protections and preservation of cultural heritage at risk.”

The next Red List, which will focus on West Africa with a special emergency section on Mali, is already in progress. A Red List for Libya will soon be in preparation as well. They will both be published next year.