Head of Counter-Terrorism Office Urges Involvement of Private Art Dealers, Auction Houses in Preventing Trafficking
With the obvious goal of undermining national identity and international law, terrorists — particularly in armed conflict situations — were not only destroying lives and property, but also historical sites and objects, the head of the United Nations Office of Counter‑Terrorism told the Security Council today.
Under‑Secretary‑General Vladimir Voronkov pointed out that when terrorist groups targeted World Heritage Sites, they attacked common historical roots and cultural diversity. Illicit trafficking in cultural objects also led to the financing of terrorism and criminal networks. The protection of cultural heritage had therefore become a vitally important task for the international community.
Citing numerous international legal and normative frameworks to address those crimes, he underscored the need to focus on investigation, cross‑border cooperation and exchange of information, as well as involving public and private sector partners, including collectors, art dealers, auction houses and tourism agencies. With United Nations support, Member States had strengthened their legal frameworks and criminal justice systems, and enhanced collaboration to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks against their cultural heritage, he said.
Audrey Azoulay, Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said the adoption of Council resolution 2347 (2017) testified to a new awareness of the importance of culture in reducing conflict, preventing radicalization and fighting violent extremism. Already, 29 Member States had shared information on new actions taken to protect cultural heritage, strengthening tools and training of specialized personnel.
She reported that of the 82 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Arab region, 17 were on the list of those endangered by armed conflict. All six Syrian World Heritage Sites had been severely affected, and more than 100 cultural heritage sites across Iraq had been damaged. To stem the destruction, awareness must be raised, notably through the UNESCO Unite4Heritage movement.
Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) called for greater implementation of the almost universally agreed conventions against transnational organized crime, against corruption and for the suppression of terrorist financing. Cooperation in investigating and prosecuting trafficking cases must be strengthened, and more information exchanged. The art market and museums should pay special attention to the provenance of cultural items they were considering acquiring.
Jürgen Stock, Secretary‑General of the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), called the destruction and trafficking of cultural heritage in armed conflict serious transnational crimes, which financed terrorist groups, hindered reconciliation through attempts to erase and desecrate public assets, and caused loss to the global community.
He said INTERPOL had been fighting those crimes on behalf of law enforcement worldwide since 1946. Its efforts focused on the collection and exchange of operational information across borders, including in conflict and post‑conflict zones. He stressed the imperative of exchanging information as rapidly and widely as possible, and of creating both specialized police units and national databases dedicated to protecting cultural property and investigating trafficking.
Alessandro Bianchi, Project Leader of Cultural Heritage Protection in Italy’s Ministry of Culture, said such assets were in the cross‑hairs of the enemy, viewed as symbols of identity that deserved desecration and destruction. Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) had demolished 36 of 80 notable buildings in Mosul in June 2014 because they were legacies of the Shia community. He advocated better coordination between law enforcement and judicial bodies in preventing illegal excavations, harmonizing customs procedures and inspecting the trade in artefacts.
In the ensuing debate, Council members underlined the importance of preserving cultural heritage, with Senegal’s delegate describing it as the identity of peoples and nations, and a source of cohesion. Its organized looting and illicit trafficking had become a war strategy of terrorists who used proceeds to finance their criminal activities. Kazakhstan’s representative said cultural heritage carried “civilizational codes”. Protecting it and fostering pluralism were essential for ensuring peace.
Several delegates called on Governments to ratify and harmonize multilateral legal instruments, fully implement resolution 2347 (2017) and deepen cooperation with UNESCO and INTERPOL. The representative of the Russian Federation suggested that those involved in destroying or trafficking cultural property be added to the Council’s various sanctions lists.
Underlining the need to combat impunity, delegates welcomed the International Criminal Court’s decision to prosecute those responsible for destroying cultural heritage in Timbuktu with war crimes. Several cited the cooperation between Mali and the United Nations stabilization mission there, with Bolivia’s representative recommending the replication of that positive experience by other countries and missions.
Others noted the primary responsibility of States to protect cultural heritage, and the importance of international support to help some build capacity. Sweden’s delegate drew attention to the “demand side” of illicit trafficking, noting that the burden of such activity could not be solely borne by countries affected by war or terrorism. Egypt’s delegate added that international support must respect national sovereignty. He objected to any interference in State internal affairs and to the removal of objects from a country to safe havens.
Representatives of Japan, France, United Kingdom, Ethiopia, China, Uruguay, Ukraine, United States and Italy also spoke.
The meeting started at 10:07 a.m. and ended at 12:17 p.m.
VLADIMIR VORONKOV, Under‑Secretary‑General of the United Nations Office of Counter‑Terrorism, said terrorists, particularly in situations of armed conflict, not only destroyed lives and property, but also historical sites and objects, with the obvious goal of undermining national identity and international law. When terrorist groups targeted World Heritage Sites, it was an attack on common historical roots and cultural diversity. Illicit trafficking in cultural objects also led to the financing of terrorism and criminal networks. The protection of cultural heritage had therefore become a vitally important task for the international community.
He said there was already a strong international legal and normative framework to address those crimes. Council resolution 2347 (2017), for example, encouraged Member States to ratify the 1970 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) convention on illicit trafficking and the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two Protocols. Other legal frameworks included the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, the United Nations Convention against Corruption, the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, and the International Guidelines for Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Responses with Respect to Trafficking in Cultural Property and Other Related Offences.
He said there was a need to focus on investigation, cross‑border cooperation and exchange of information, as well as on bringing in private and public sector partners, including collectors, art dealers, auction houses and the tourism sector. The Counter‑Terrorism Office, through the inter‑agency Working Group on Countering the Financing of Terrorism, supported State efforts to curb illicit trafficking. UNESCO and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) were already working together, along with the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), the World Customs Organization and other partners. He also had asked the Counter‑Terrorism Implementation Task Force entities to propose projects, and would welcome new proposals by States and regional organizations.
With the support of United Nations entities, he said Member States were strengthening their legal frameworks and criminal justice systems, and enhancing their collaboration to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks against their cultural heritage.
AUDREY AZOULAY, Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, introducing the report on the implementation of resolution 2347 (2017), said that its adoption testified to a new awareness on the importance of culture to reduce conflict, prevent radicalization and fight violent extremism. Already, she said, 29 Member States had shared information on new action taken to protect cultural heritage, strengthening tools and training of specialized personnel. Italy had launched the Unite4Heritage Task Force and developed a database of illegally removed heritage, the largest of its kind. Japan, France, Slovakia and the Russian Federation had reported improvements in their records of stolen objects, officers in Canada had received training on import‑export controls, and both Uruguay and Sweden had created new mechanisms. “These are positive signals of deep change,” she said.
“We need to do more,” she added, reporting that of the 82 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Arab region, 17 were on the list of those endangered by armed conflict. All six Syrian World Heritage Sites had been severely affected, with Palmyra and Aleppo, two of the oldest cities in the world, now reduced to rubble. More than 100 cultural heritage sites across Iraq had been damaged. To stem the destruction, awareness must be raised, with initiatives also targeting young people building on the UNESCO Unite4Heritage movement. In addition, information on trafficking and damage must be collected and shared, and peacekeepers trained on protection of heritage.
She pledged the determination of UNESCO to support Member States with the necessary tools and policy advice, pointing to guidelines around the fundamental link between respect for cultural diversity and human rights. A holistic approach to protection of culture was needed. She called for ending trafficking, protecting sights and working in cultural education to counter such lies as Palmyra being a monument to Roman occupation rather than the rich cultural crossroads it had been for centuries. She welcomed cooperation with UNESCO in the rebuilding of Timbuktu in Mali, and the development of new legal tools, stressing that protection‑oriented mandates afforded by the Security Council would foster the continued existence of the world’s cultures.
YURY FEDOTOV, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, urged the international community to maintain focus on strengthening the implementation of the almost universally agreed instruments represented by the conventions against transnational organized crime, against corruption and for the suppression of terrorist financing. He said his Office worked closely with UNESCO, INTERPOL, the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law and other partners to assist Member States in promoting comprehensive responses to stop looted or stolen cultural property from being trafficked from the affected countries.
More must be done to support countries, with a view to dismantling criminal networks, he said. International cooperation in investigating and prosecuting cases of trafficking in cultural property must be strengthened, and more information exchanged. The art market and museums also should pay special attention to the provenance of cultural items they were considering acquiring. To help countries build capacity, UNODC offered advanced training for port control and continued to support anti‑corruption and anti‑money‑laundering action, providing technical assistance to counter terrorist financing in particular. UNODC had also developed a tool to help put into practice the crime prevention guidelines adopted by the General Assembly in 2014, and he urged all Member States to use that expert resource.
“Even as we welcome news that groups such as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) are losing control over territories, we must take the opportunity to further strengthen efforts to better safeguard vulnerable cultural property. Only this way can we protect precious cultural heritage from being lost forever,” he said, assuring that UNODC’s assistance and network of field offices were at the disposal of the international community for that purpose.
JÜRGEN STOCK, Secretary‑General of the International Criminal Police Organization, addressing the Council via videoconference, said the destruction and trafficking of cultural heritage in armed conflict were serious and transnational crimes affecting international peace and security. Those practices financed terrorist groups, hindered the processes of reconciliation and return to democratic governance — notably by attempting to erase and desecrate social, cultural and economic assets — and causing loss to the global community.
He said INTERPOL had been fighting those crimes on behalf of law enforcement worldwide since 1946. Its efforts focused on the core of its mandate: the collection and exchange of vital operational information across borders, including with law enforcement in conflict and post‑conflict zones. However, essential criminal information on foreign terrorist fighters, identity documents and trafficked property were often dispersed across actors in those areas. Consolidating it into a single operational flow was the primary goal of INTERPOL. Coordinating the gathering and sharing of information into one centralized hub avoided intelligence gaps, he explained, and promoted national sovereignty and ownership of data.
Recently, INTERPOL had collected information from its bureaus in Baghdad and Damascus, he said, identifying objects of invaluable cultural value stolen from Raqqa and Palmyra in Syria, and Mosul in Iraq. That information had immediately been disseminated to law enforcement and other stakeholders. Intelligence was used to identify trafficking routes, especially new destination countries. INTERPOL was working to enhance real time access to that intelligence through upgrading its database and developing mobile applications.
He stressed the imperative of exchanging information as rapidly and widely as possible, while preventing the duplication of channels. There was also a need to create specialized police units and national databases dedicated to the protection of cultural property and investigation of heritage trafficking cases. Italy’s model was an example to follow, he said, as it ensured coordination through a single national point of contact and created opportunities to seize stolen objects.
ALESSANDRO BIANCHI, Project Leader, Cultural Heritage Protection, Ministry of Culture of Italy, attached great importance to resolution 2347 (2017) as it updated the international framework in defence of heritage at risk. Monuments in conflict areas were currently in the cross‑hairs of the enemy, viewed as symbols of identity that deserved desecration and destruction. Looting and illegal excavations were sources of income for criminal gangs and terrorist groups, who not only carried out such acts for financial gain, but to destroy the identities of a people. For example, in June 2014, ISIL/Da’esh had demolished 36 of 80 notable buildings in the centre of Mosul because they were legacies of the Shia community.
Given such experiences, resolution 2347 (2017) outlined the growing importance of three areas of action, he continued. Firstly, it underscored the need for the collection of technical data on monuments and archaeological sites and the increased use of modern technology, including satellite remote control of territory to assess possible damage. Next, resolution 2347 (2017) underscored the need for improved coordination between law enforcement and judicial bodies in fighting international crime, preventing illegal excavations, coordinating customs procedures and inspecting the trade in artefacts. Lastly, the resolution highlighted the support required to administrations of affected territories by facilitating the rapid recovery of their pre‑crisis capacities.
KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) said all States must realize the importance of preserving and regenerating cultural and historical heritage, stressing that it carried the “civilizational codes” of a nation. Protecting cultural heritage and fostering pluralism were essential for ensuring peace, security and sustainable development. All States Parties should ratify and harmonize multilateral legal instruments related to cultural heritage, as artefact smuggling was a transnational phenomenon. In addition, sanctions regimes should be rigorously enforced, while joint efforts with antiquities markets and private dealers must be strengthened, and the inventory and documentation of artefacts and heritage sites put in place.
TOSHIYA HOSHINO (Japan) condemned the destruction of cultural heritage as a war tactic used by terrorist groups, stressing that protection of that property was a peace and security issue. Japan was committed to universalizing and implementing international norms, he said, calling resolution 2347 (2017), the 1954 Hague Convention and the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime — known as the Palermo Convention — productive legal frameworks. A global criminal justice response that held perpetrators accountable was needed, as was enhanced coordination within the United Nations. Capacity‑building was also essential to safeguarding cultural heritage. Japan had established the UNESCO Japanese Funds‑in‑Trust for the Preservation of World Cultural Heritage, he said, emphasizing the importance of enhanced partnerships to promote a multifaceted response, information‑sharing and coordination among a broad range of stakeholders.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said his country and Italy had always shared the objective of protecting the heritage of humanity and had worked together in developing resolution 2347 (2017). He listed the wide variety of groups that had attacked cultural heritage in recent years, with armed groups deriving funding from looting cultural goods, which thus fuelled conflicts. It was imperative to ensure that the international community as a whole was mobilized to address the situation. He described France’s work within the European Union for that purpose, and at the international level, coordination with INTERPOL, and partnership with the United Arab Emirates on the 2016 Abu Dhabi conference, which had brought together actors in many sectors to create an international alliance to protect threatened cultural heritage.
JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom), noting terrorist attempts to annihilate cherished values and cultural diversity, welcomed the International Criminal Court’s sentencing related to cultural destruction in Timbuktu. In addition to legal and security action, practical actions were needed from the international community. Funding from the private sector and Governments was needed to protect the shared heritage for the benefit of humanity. The United Kingdom had ratified the 1954 Hague Convention, tightened control over the sale and movement of cultural goods and developed expertise for national and international purposes. A fund protecting cultural sites and artefacts in many countries would be extended to further regions. “Our shared cultural heritage will prevail,” he vowed.
MAHLET HAILU GUADEY (Ethiopia) affirmed that the looting and exploiting of cultural sites and artefacts were of great concern, and welcomed efforts carried out since the adoption of resolution 2347 (2017). States had the primary responsibility to protect their heritage and prosecute violators, but they required international cooperation to effectively carry out that obligation. She welcomed UNESCO’s collaboration with the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and other missions in that context, underlining the importance of fully implementing Council resolutions and the Convention on protecting cultural heritage.
WU HAITAO (China) affirmed that cultural heritage was important for many reasons, including representing diverse civilizations. Looting and destruction of such heritage must end, particularly since it financed terrorism, and resolution 2347 (2017) must be fully implemented for that purpose. The United Nations should support capacity‑building for the prevention of trafficking and the financing of terrorist groups. At the national level, security policies should be strengthened, with the international community providing constructive support with full respect for national sovereignty. Mutual respect and dialogue between civilizations should also be promoted, as should reconciliation within groups in conflict areas to ensure respect for all cultural heritage.
IRINA SCHOULGIN NYONI (Sweden) brought attention to the “demand side” of illicit trafficking in cultural property, noting that the burden of such activity could not be solely borne by countries affected by war or terrorism. For that reason, she welcomed that the Secretary‑General’s report addressed the role of the arts and antiquities market, noting that the National Heritage Board had opened a dialogue with Swedish art and antiques dealers, with the aim of strengthening the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property. Revised anti‑money‑laundering and counter‑terrorist financing legislation also created stronger incentives for the private and public sectors to work together on those issues. She took note of the Secretary‑General’s recommendations regarding the training of personnel on the protection of cultural heritage and on planning processes ahead of the establishment of new peacekeeping missions or mandate renewals. Where preventive efforts failed, accountability for attacks against cultural heritage sites was essential and perpetrators must be held accountable.
FODÉ SECK (Senegal) said cultural heritage was one way of preserving the identity of peoples and nations; it was a source of cohesion. The organized looting and illicit trafficking of cultural goods had become a war strategy of terrorist groups who used the proceeds to finance their criminal activities. Humanity had suffered massive destructions perpetrated in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Libya and in Timbuktu, Mali. Protecting world cultural heritage in conflict situations was a major challenge requiring a rapid response from the international community. It was important to draw up an accurate inventory of cultural property and objects of religious significance that had been illegally removed. He welcomed the decision of the International Criminal Court stating that the destruction of a religious or cultural site constituted a war crime, noting that MINUSMA had been authorized to assist authorities in protecting historical sites.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said the fight against ISIL was nearing its end, thanks to the involvement of the Russian Air Force. Addressing the damage to cultural heritage caused by terrorists, however, would take years. Implementation of resolution 2347 (2017) raised some questions, as terrorists used all kinds of loopholes when trafficking in cultural heritage, including through anonymous dealers and the Internet. He called on all States to provide to the sanctions committees all information available, suggesting that people and entities active in such trafficking be included on the committees’ lists. The issue of mine clearing and preserving cultural heritage in Syria was acute, he said, noting that Russian forces had cleared more than 2,000 hectares of explosives. Describing efforts to preserve heritage sites in Palmyra, he said restoring the memory of ancient civilizations was a common task of the international community.
PEDRO LUIS INCHAUSTE JORDÁN (Bolivia) condemned the systematic looting, trafficking and destruction of cultural heritage goods by Da’esh and other terrorist groups to finance their activities. The huge economic gains those groups had made had been enabled through governance gaps, weak law and order institutions and the absence of border controls. Those situations, in turn, had been created by interventionist policies. Cooperation among States and international organizations must be a priority in the implementation of resolution 2347 (2017), he said, stressing that joint action between special United Nations missions in conflict areas would help build capacity to counter illicit trafficking in cultural heritage. He also recommended a focus on restoring cultural sites, which must include mine action, and replicating the positive experience between Mali and MINUSMA in coordinating efforts. Policies for redress and return of property should be addressed as well, while perpetrators must be prosecuted, he said, welcoming the sentence handed out by the International Criminal Court, which was a benchmark in combating impunity.
ELBIO OSCAR ROSSELLI FRIERI (Uruguay) said cultural goods represented the identity of people and their history, and thus should be protected. World cultural heritage had an exceptional value, and the international community had recognized the need to protect it by adopting several legal instruments. Indeed, an attack against one site was an attack against all cultural heritage sites. Underscoring the important work of UNESCO, he recognized the value of coordinating efforts with the World Customs Organization. He also welcomed the letter of intent signed by the International Criminal Court and UNESCO to formalize cooperation. Stressing that States bore the primary responsibility for protecting cultural heritage, he described measures Uruguay had taken in that regard.
VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine) said resolution 2347 (2017) drew attention to the destruction of cultural heritage and related antiquities trafficking, which were increasingly features of armed conflict. Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and Yemen were among the most vulnerable to such threats. “Actions of terrorists in pursuit of easy profit can lead to a wholesale obliteration of a country’s archaeological record,” he said. However, resolution 2347 (2017) was still far from being fully implemented, as States needed time to adjust legislation. He proposed broadly criminalizing offenses against cultural heritage and imposing stiff penalties, as well as strengthening import‑export regimes and national institutional frameworks, with international coordination between law enforcement and customs agencies. States should also ensure wider information sharing on trafficking routes and criminal modus operandi. Close public‑private partnerships were necessary to track sales of illegally imported artefacts, and he urged that special attention be paid to supervising online auctions.
IHAB MOUSTAFA AWAD (Egypt) said his Government was well attuned to the importance and sensitivity surrounding the protection of cultural heritage, given the wealth of sites in his country and its geographical location. Welcoming progress in protection that had occurred following the adoption of resolution 2347 (2017), he stressed the primary role of each State in protecting its own heritage. International support must recognize that role and respect national sovereignty. He objected to any interference in internal State affairs and to the removal of objects from a country to safe havens. The Council must only address the topic when addressing international terrorism and other topics under its purview of international peace and security. States should prepare lists of their properties that had been transferred from their sites during conflict, with cooperation from relevant agencies to secure their return.
MICHELE J. SISON (United States) presented examples demonstrating that looting cultural artefacts had become integral to ISIL/Da’esh operations, with Internet communications making that criminal enterprise much easier. Looting and trafficking of cultural heritage was unacceptable. The United States countered such trafficking through specific measures blocking illegal import of artefacts, particularly related to armed conflict situations. She described the activities of the cultural antiquities task force and the Federal Bureau of Investigation in that regard, and cited funding of organizations that documented and tracked looting of artefacts, among many other measures taken by her country. She looked forward to building stronger coordination with Member States and other organizations towards the full implementation of resolution 2347 (2017).
SEBASTIANO CARDI (Italy), Council president for the month of November, speaking in his national capacity, said attacks on cultural heritage were linked to violence against local populations, in addition to multiple other harms. All forms of trafficking in cultural property must be stopped, which was a main priority for Italy. In that context, he described Italy’s support for the Blue Helmets of Culture initiative, the Unite4Heritage campaign, and the working groups on Da’esh financing and the smuggling of cultural artefacts, as well as its cooperation with UNODC, UNESCO and INTERPOL to address illicit trafficking. Italy also had worked with France in bringing about the adoption of resolution 2347 (2017), and continued to work on the issue because preservation of cultural diversity was vital to peacemaking and equitable development.