A parliamentary debate on the issue of antiquities trafficking in Syria and Iraq is due to take place soon in the House of Commons. British politicians are calling for greater collaboration between foreign governments, law-enforcement agencies and the art world to curb illegal trafficking of antiquities from Syria and Iraq, which has been claimed by experts to be one of Islamic State’s top revenue streams, along with the sale of oil, extortion and ransom payments.
“This is the greatest scale of looting we have seen since the Second World War,” says Robert Jenrick, the Conservative Party’s member of parliament for Newark, and a former director at Christie’s, is one of the MPs behind the campaign.
Another MP to add his weight to the campaign is Hugo Swire, the Conservative MP for East Devon and a former director at Sotheby’s. Philip Hammond, the foreign secretary, is also in favour of the campaign. Jenrick, meanwhile, has been liaising with US politicians including Massachusetts congressman William Keating to build a UK-US consensus – reports The Art Newspaper.
A bill was introduced in November seeking to block looted Syrian cultural heritage from entering the United States. The Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act asked Congress to appoint a cultural property protection tsar and establish emergency import restrictions to protect endangered cultural patrimony. But the bill was not passed.
“it is no longer just an issue for people with an interest in the art world or cultural heritage”, Robert Jenrick stated.
But Metropolitan Police’s overstretched Art and Antiques Squad is being asked to more effectively enforce existing laws rather than MPs lobbying for new legislation. The Art Newspaper also reported that the campaign is not planning to lobby the UK government to ratify the Hague Convention, which provides protection for countries’ heritage in times of conflict, at this present time.
Jenrick adds that the major auction houses would need to be supported by the enforcement of law to ensure that they carry out due diligence to stem the illicit trade.