U.K. All-Party Parliamentary Group
Walk of Truth provides the secretariat for the U.K. All-Party Parliamentary Group, launched on Nov. 30, 2015, with the backing of Boris Johnson, then mayor of London and currently foreign minister. The APPG’s achievements to date include:
- Obtaining a commitment that the British government will ratify the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its protocols. Developments related to the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill can be followed here.
- Recommending training on the law for illicit antiquities for the British police and crown prosecution service.
- Encouraging the U.K. Museums Association to update its code of ethics to better reflect concern with due diligence in acquiring antiquities.
- Recommending a specialist unit be set up within HM Customs focussed on cultural property.
- Proposing amendments to two laws to protect those legitimately recovering looted antiquities and stolen works of art: the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act of 2003.
-For the launch press release, click here.
-For a summary of statements from the first All-Party Parliamentary Group meeting, click here.
Summary of statements from All-Party Parliamentary Group meeting
Mayor of London Boris Johnson
Johnson said terrorist groups like DAESH are making money out of “the very objects that they purport to despise” by selling antiquities looted from archaeological sites. This is a trade that is taking place in Western Europe, including in London, and one that needs to be stopped. He urged the APPG to work with his office at City Hall to draw up an action plan to cover:
- Proactive inter-city discussions with cities under cultural threat
- The policing response, drawing on the work of the MPS Art and Antiquities Unit
- Raising awareness in civil society
- Creating a haven for disputed works of art/ temporary storage
- Work with London’s auction houses and legitimate traders
- Combatting the black market and antiquities trafficking
Johnson called on the APPG to “do whatever we can to prevent further destruction, to close down the markets here in London and the West in whatever way we can, and to prepare for the day when we can work with these scholars and the historians of those countries to help rebuild and restore what is being lost. If these countries are to have a future and believe me, they certainly do, they certainly can have a wonderful future, then we must protect their past.”
UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, in a statement read by Peter Stone (UNESCO Chair in Cultural Property Protection and Peace from Jan. 1)
UNESCO is receiving daily reports on the “intentional destruction of irreplaceable landmarks, and the highly organised looting and illicit trafficking of cultural property.” Bokova described such attacks on culture as war crimes. She called on governments worldwide to ratify and implement existing UN instruments as “the most urgent step to contribute to the effective fight against destruction and looting of culture around the world and particularly in the Middle East.”
UNESCO is working closely with governments, international organisations to fight illicit trafficking by:
- Strengthening border controls
- Creating and training specialised police units
- Revising national legislation
- Encouraging due diligence and careful provenance research in the art market
Stone added that the British Army is setting up a Cultural Property Protection Unit in the forces which will be staffed by 20-25 CPP officers. He said the U.K. “has a tremendous opportunity” to be the first of the five permanent Security Council members to become a party not only to the 1954 Hague Convention for the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict but also both its protocols next year.
Tasoula Hadjitofi, Founder of Walk of Truth
Hadjitofi called for a change in the moral climate as well as the law. “The public must be engaged, and it has to be understood that the restitution of cultural heritage can be a key to peace and reconciliation,” she said. She called for the creation of a museum for disputed or homeless art treasures, as well for works that cannot safely be sent home, saying that such a museum could be an important place of learning about the dangers posed by art theft.
She said Walk of Truth often receives tips from refugees and other members of the public about trafficked art, reflecting Walk of Truth’s firm commitment to involving ordinary people in the struggle against art looting and destruction. Hadjitofi described her plan to launch Culture Crime Watchers Worldwide with the support of governments, UN agencies and Interpol, as a means of inviting the public to share information discreetly about trafficked art. Using technology that allows images and data to be transported instantly, it will allow migrants now arriving in Europe from places like Syria and Afghanistan to help stop the looting of their homelands.