Logo of hte UN Security Council and title of the Letter

On the 15 January 2019, the UN Chair of the Security Council Committee wrote a letter to the President of the Security Council pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999), 1989 (2011) and 2253 (2015) concerning Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals, groups, undertakings and entities, and Resolution 2347 (2017) on Cultural Heritage (flagged by the Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA) ).

Despite the many varied and unsubstantiated claims for the amount of money made by ISIS from antiquities, Section A.82 of the report reads:

Member States also broadly share the analysis that ISIL did not systematically or fully exploit the funding potential of looting and trading in antiquities and cultural goods. Nevertheless, it will not be possible to draw firm conclusions on this until more is known about what was taken, and until enhanced detection and enforcement efforts have yielded more information.

However, as noted by ARCA:

Most endeavours to establish such information have, are, and will continue to be seriously hampered by chronic underfunding.”

Even though it is impossible to determine the extent of ISIS’ exploitation of looted objects for funding with certainty, successful application of the measures identified in Resolution 2347 (2017) on Cultural Heritage remains vital in preventing their use as a funding source and promoting their protection.

Paragraphs 8 to 11 of Resolution 2347 (2017) on Cultural Heritage urge Member States to introduce effective measures at legislative and operational levels, with the aim of tackling the issue of illicit trafficking of antiquities. In particular, the resolution invites Member States to liaise, as appropriate, with international organisations such as INTERPOL, UNESCO and UNODC to broaden the law enforcement and discourage all those activities or economic resources which can benefit, directly or not, ISIS or Al-Qaida.

The Letter to the President contains a section reviewing the implementation of Resolution 2347 by Members states to date (p19). Unfortunately, it highlights that many Member States have faced difficulties in implementing an effective national legal framework for protecting cultural heritage ( Section B.83). To provide support for the entry into force of the measures discussed in Resolution 2347 (2017), in April 2018 a ‘group of friends for the protection of cultural heritage’ was set up by Member States. Those countries who have not joined the group yet are strongly encouraged to take part by the Chair.

In addition, (para 17. D of Resolution 2347 (2017)) reiterates the necessity for Member States to develop tools and training to prevent illicit trafficking, highlighting the training handbook launched by the World Customs Organisation  in November 2018, aimed at providing operational guidelines to frontline customs officers in places such as airports and seaports. Although it is the only international initiative mentioned in the report, a number of other important training activities have been organised. ARCA , for example, contributed to Countering Antiquities Trafficking in the Mashreq: A Training Program for Specialists Working to Deter Cultural Property Theft and the Illicit Trafficking of Antiquities program, a 5-day training, run by experts from UNESCO, UNIDROIT, INTERPOL, ICOM, UNODC, as well as four trainers from ARCA. Another national initiative is the ESTERDAD course: Preventing the Illicit Trade in Cultural Property, running for its third year in Beirut and organised by members of the UK Blue Shield and Lebanese Blue Shield.

Hopefully these and similar initiatives will help in  sharing  knowledge and raising awareness of the primary responsibility of Member States to protect cultural heritage in the context of armed conflicts.

Read more about the UN Security Council Resolutions in our Law Library