Criminalisation of the Illicit trade in cultural property
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- The Routledge Companion to Cultural Property, 2017, pp. 54 - 69
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In August 2014, the UN Security Council condemned the gross, systematic and widespread violation of international humanitarian and human rights law by various armed groups in Syria and Iraq including: [I]ndiscriminate killing and deliberate targeting of civilians, numerous atrocities, mass executions and extrajudicial killings, including of soldiers, persecution of individuals and entire communities on the basis of their religion or belief, kidnapping of civilians, forced displacement of members of minority groups, killing and maiming of children, recruitment and use of children, rape and other forms of sexual violence, arbitrary detention, attacks on schools and hospitals, destruction of cultural and religious sites and obstructing the exercise of economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to education. (UN 2014a: para. 2). Through its inclusion of acts directed against cultural heritage in this list, the Security Council reaffirmed the opprobrium with which the international community holds them. In later resolutions, and in line with existing customary international law, it condemned the incidental or deliberate destruction and pillage of cultural heritage. More significantly, it recognised that looting and the illicit traffic of cultural objects is used by these groups to raise funds, as they do with other economic resources (oil, precious metals) and illicit activities (kidnapping for ransom). Viewed as facilitating acts which threaten international peace and security, it calls on Member States to repress these activities and ensure that those who engage in such acts be ‘brought to justice’ (UN 2015a). This chapter considers the criminalisation of illicit traffic of cultural objects in international law and its impact for domestic law. The regulation of the trade in cultural objects has long been resisted in so-called market States, which host major auction houses and art and antiquities dealers. The lobbying was particularly directed against the enforcement of foreign public laws covering export controls in domestic courts (NADAOPA et al. 2002).
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