In the last months of 2014, ICOM’s work to fight illicit traffic in cultural goods was defined by commitment and mobilisation
The fight against the illicit traffic of cultural goods in Syria and Iraq has been at the forefront of ICOM’s actions this December, beginning with ICOM Director General Anne-Catherine Robert-Hauglustaine’s participation in the International High Level Conference on the endangered heritage and cultural diversity of Iraq and Syria, held by UNESCO in Paris, France. During the conference on 3 December, she cited plans to update the Emergency Red List of Iraqi Antiquities at Risk and to translate it into German. Published for the first time in 2003, the Iraqi Red List is one of the first of these effective tools used by customs officials, police officers, art dealers and collectors to identify objects that are vulnerable to trafficking. In light of current events, its overhaul is timelier than ever.
The Syrian Red List, which was launched in September 2013 and currently exists in English, French, German and Arabic, will be soon translated into Turkish. This document has already been widely distributed and has proved useful to stakeholders from a wide array of sectors. Its translation into Turkish will facilitate the work of the Turkish security forces responsible for intercepting Syrian cultural goods being displaced in the country.
For her part, ICOM Director of Programmes and Partnerships France Desmarais participated in the conference Kulturgut in Gefahr (Cultural heritage in danger) on 11-12 December in Berlin, Germany, where she discussed the ways in which ethical and professional practices can contribute to combatting the illicit traffic of cultural goods. Responding to numerous media requests about the situation in Syria, she repeatedly stressed the importance of Red Lists in identifying vulnerable cultural goods, and the responsibility of buyers who are directly financing the activities of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in doing so. She also called for precaution with regards to estimations of the looting of antiquities that have been determined from the funding sources of ISIS.
In addition to producing these important prevention tools, ICOM continues to innovate and develop new systems of surveillance for emergency situations through its Disaster Relief Task Force for Museums and to fight illegal trade of cultural goods, particularly through the establishment of the ICOM's International Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods two years ago. International experts from the Observatory met in Paris in November, 2014, to discuss the situation of heritage in Syria and Iraq.