The Belgian National Committee of the Blue Shield has submitted an Open Letter To The Belgian Minister Of The Interior Regarding Illicit Trafficking Of Cultural Heritage
Blue Shield Belgium express severe concern over the closure of the ART unit of the Belgian Police department.
The attention paid to Belgian Police departments involved in the fight against the illicit trade has increasingly faded, especially after the suppression of the ART unit at the end of 2015. Following that date, only one detective and an assistant remained to manage the database of stolen works of art linked to INTERPOL, and to find these stolen or looted works of art. After December 31, 2021, the unit of the federal judicial police specialising in the fight against the trafficking in cultural property is no longer active and all staff reassigned, following a decision from interior minister Annelies Verlinden based on a lack of finances.
According to a report published by Paris Match (quoted in The Bulletin), “all the activities of the unit were stopped on 1 January until further notice due to a lack of capacity”. The report also revealed that, in the absence of new budgetary resources, “the theft and trafficking of works of art will no longer be monitored at central level, that the ARTIST (Art Information System) database will no longer be updated and that finally, the relay of information from and to foreign police, Europol and Interpol will no longer be ensured.”
Blue Shield argue that Belgium no longer respects the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, ratified by Belgium on March 31, 2009.
Artistic objects looted in war zones end up illegally on the Belgian market and it is not uncommon that the profits are used to finance international terrorism. In addition our own cultural heritage is victim of the actual situation. The illicit trade of stolen art objects extends beyond the limits of the competences of local services who currently have to deal with these issues, and even beyond our borders.
The Belgian Blue Shield appeal to the Minister of the Interior and members of the Federal Government of Belgium to adopt a firm policy against these criminal actions. They express strongly their indignation at the disinterest of the different levels of Belgian power and the lack of attention and concrete resources made available to fight against the illicit traffic of works of art in Belgium.
The 1970 Convention addresses the need to have a legal instrument to continue the international fight against the illicit traffic of cultural property. Theft, looting and illicit trafficking of cultural property is a crime. It deprives people of their history and culture, it weakens social cohesion in the long term. It fuels organized crime and contributes to the financing of terrorism. This Convention provides the means to combat the movement of cultural property and mechanisms for its restitution.