Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 November 2019

Cutting the lines of smugglers

Safeguarding cultural heritage will also help tackle the danger of extremism
Representatives of 40 countries approved a US$100 million fund to protect cultural heritage sites in places of conflict, during the two-day Unesco-backed Safeguarding Endangered Cultural Heritage summit in Abu Dhabi. Pawan Singh / The National
Representatives of 40 countries approved a US$100 million fund to protect cultural heritage sites in places of conflict, during the two-day Unesco-backed Safeguarding Endangered Cultural Heritage summit in Abu Dhabi. Pawan Singh / The National

Global investment to protect endangered cultural heritage across the world is vital to safeguarding national heritage – and also provides an opportunity to tackle the rise of terrorism. As The National reported yesterday, representatives of 40 countries approved a US$100 million fund to protect cultural heritage sites in places of conflict, during the two-day Unesco-backed Safeguarding Endangered Cultural Heritage summit in Abu Dhabi.

Putting more focus on stopping the illicit trafficking of cultural heritage artefacts will save those treasures for the communities they belong to. But it also means that the groups trafficking these antiquities, such as ISIL, will lose an important source of financing.

There has been growing evidence that the organisation has been raising money by selling stolen antiquities on the black market to fund their operations. The Unesco chief Irina Bokova has condemned what she called the “cultural cleansing” of Iraq. This is also an issue in Syria, where 90 per cent of cultural artefacts are located in war-torn areas.

Protecting cultural heritage will not be an easy mission considering that ISIL occupies more than 4,500 archaeological sites, some of them Unesco World Heritage sites. And they make money not only through the selling of looted artefacts but also by taxing traffickers moving items through their territory. But the increasing effort to address the problem will put more pressure on these groups and, thus, restrain their advancement.

It will also offer insights into smuggling routes for other illicit items. The same trafficking routes used for antiques are also used for guns, drugs and people. By focusing on antiques, the authorities can uncover where these routes are, who the key smugglers are, and who is financing their smuggling and sale.

Such global unity to better protect culture is critical for reasons beyond terrorism financing. Cultural heritage is a powerful tool to connect all humanity and foster peaceful dialogue. This is why they are often targeted by extremist groups and this is why we all need to stand together to safeguard it.

Updated: December 4, 2016 04:00 AM

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