Intentional destruction of Heritage and financing of terrorism

October 14, 2016, 12:06 pm

On 27 September, for the first time, the International Criminal Court (ICC) ruled that the destruction of heritage is a war crime. The sentence marks a milestone in terms of jurisprudence and signals a shift from considering the destruction of heritage as mere collateral damage to a wider security approach.

Increased activity by the ICC in this area, however, should not be expected in the near future. In the particular case of Iraq and Syria, the ICC has no jurisdiction and can only act when requested by the UN Security Council, which has voted against the intervention of the court.


The idea of considering the destruction of culture heritage and goods as ‘Acts of Vandalism’ was first proposed to the League of Nations in 1933. Since then international institutions have slowly but steadily increased their activities in this area, with the 1970 UNESCO Convention, and the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention as landmarks texts.

Currently, the threat posed by Islamic extremism is the focus of all international initiatives in this domain. In 2015, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution condemning all trade in antiquities coming from territories controlled by ISIL and aligned groups. The last report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights, Karima Bennoune, seeks to strengthen the link between the intentional destruction of cultural heritage in conflict and non-conflict situations by States and non-State actors with human rights.

The European institutions have also joined efforts in curtailing the traffic of cultural artefacts, both through new legislation on the return of unlawfully removed cultural objects and direct support. The DG HOME co-financed the establishment of the ICOM’s International Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods, the DG DEVCO funds the European Neighbourhood Policy Instrument, in partnership with UNESCO and ICCROM, aiming at safeguarding Syrian cultural heritage. Importantly, the DG JUST is currently undertaking a consultation on supranational risk assessment (SRNA) of money laundering and terrorist financing by mandate of the Directive 2015/849.

CAE & wider Civil Society initial recommendations

On October 4, CAE was invited to comment on the initial identification of risk scenarios in the NPOs sector.The current risk identification and analysis exercise is crucial input for the final recommendation package. The level of risk for NPOs, including those working in the cultural field, is significant. Among other reasons, this is due to the low risk awareness across the sector and the relative easiness with which a NPO can be set up. Additionally, high value goods such as antiquities are identified as a potential method for terrorism finance.

In this regard, CAE’s involvement in the Civil Society Europe group offered the opportunity to reinforce existing alliances with other NPOs actors and finding a common standing point. We communicated to the Commission that a significant change in terms of awareness has occurred within the NPO sector in general and the cultural sector in particular. Although the recommendations have not yet been announced, they might affect sources of finance for the cultural sector such as cash donations or crowdfunding. We stressed that recommendations should be proportionate to the realities of a sector strongly impacted by budget cuts and more reliant on alternative sources of finance.

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