Destruction of cultural heritage in Iraq and Syria – Nordic initiative to stop illegal trading in cultural objects

12.05.15 | Declaration
Statement by the Nordic Council of Ministers for Culture (MR-K), 12 May 2015


Tórshavn, Færøyene

The looting and smuggling of objects of historical and cultural significance from Iraq and Syria is a very serious problem. We strongly urge the Nordic academic and professional communities – e.g. collectors, traders, art dealers, antique shops and museums – to exercise extreme caution. In this context, we refer to the provisions in the Nordic countries’ legislation governing the import and sale of antiques and cultural objects that have been illegally exported and may originate from these areas.

It is with great consternation that we recently witnessed in Iraq and Syria the brutal destruction of cultural treasures that were thousands of years old,
including the systematic obliteration of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This has a dramatic effect not just on local people, but on humanity as a whole.

Historical monuments and large objects are being demolished, while smaller cultural objects are being sold on the black market to finance the activities of various extremist groups. Objects of unique historical significance are being stolen from museums and libraries, or looted from archaeological excavation sites, and smuggled across borders for sale in Europe and elsewhere.

On 12 February 2015, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution obliging member countries to take action to prevent extremist groups in Iraq and Syria from raising money in this way to fund their heinous crimes against both the population of the region and the global community.

The UN Security Council called upon member countries and global institutions to mobilise collectively and endorse international measures to put an end to these barbaric acts.

On 1 April, a high-level global summit was held at UNESCO about the implementation of Security Council resolution no. 2199 on the protection of the cultural heritage of Iraq and Syria. The summit discussed the allocation of responsibilities among the various parties, the lessons learned from the implementation of Security Council resolution no. 1483 (2003), which prohibited trade in cultural objects from Iraq, and how to make this work more effective.

UNESCO has also launched a campaign (#Unite4Heritage) to mobilise people and get them involved in this issue. We, the Nordic culture ministers, support this campaign.

In addition to the work done by UNESCO and other international organisations, specific national measures are needed to prevent the illegal trade in cultural objects.


Nordic initiative

All of the countries that signed the 1970 UNESCO Convention have in place a general ban on the import and sale of cultural objects illegally exported from other countries. Smaller countries, like those in the Nordic Region, have a better chance of success if they co-ordinate their efforts with others involved in this work at different levels and in different government departments in neighbouring countries.

We therefore propose a conference in autumn 2015 to explore the potential for a Nordic platform from which to launch further initiatives. The purpose of the conference is to inform those involved in the work and to discuss the potential for the Nordic countries working more closely together and making better use of our combined resources. The target group will, in the first instance, consist of customs and excise staff, police, museums, antique dealers, auction houses and other official bodies in the art and cultural world.

For measures to have the intended effect, it is of the utmost importance that the academic and professional community and the general public throughout the Nordic Region come together to show their solidarity and support the measures taken at national level to stop the illegal trade.

All affected parties, potential buyers and official agencies are therefore urged to be particularly careful, especially in relation to objects that may originate from Iraq or Syria.

The general public is urged to exercise caution when purchasing cultural objects, whether over the Internet, at auctions or as tourists abroad. Any suspicion that an object may have been imported illegally must be reported to the police.

Anyone who acquires cultural objects privately or in an academic/professional context – including over the Internet – is asked to comply with the following regulations and codes of conduct: