Cultural Heritage in Iraq and Afghanistan: A Comparative Analysis of the Failures of International Cultural Property Law Open Access

In the past decade, international politicians have been obsessively seeking to eliminate the threat of terrorist groups in the arena of politics and power. Though we have come a long way from where we stood twenty years ago, insurgency groups consistently finds alternative methods to fuel their existence. In today’s international and political struggle for power, financing acts of terrorism have approached much more creative methods. International bodies of politics, power and law have become intertwined with the art market. In fact, buyers and sellers are being warned to be extremely cautious handling the transactions involving antiquities arriving from the Middle East or areas of development because of their possible link to ISIL, Al Qaeda, and various other groups. In order words, terrorist organizations are not only looting cultural property from the states in which they operate, but, in order to generate income, they also sell these artifacts. These antiquities often carry a significant, often priceless, historical and cultural meaning to their country of origin. Monetarily, they are also extremely valuable to both a buyer adding to his collection, and a seller increasing his portfolio. And though art dealers may not be keen on supporting any type of transaction involving terrorist organizations, the lack of transparency within the system makes it increasingly hard to tell which potential acquisition has dangerous consequences. Often times, these risky consequences are ignored for the prestige of the possession of such items. Though dealing with art is not the only source of income for terrorist groups, securing any financial acquisitions is imperative to their existence and success. However, the burden of the continued distribution of antiquities does not rest entirely on these organizations. In order for this kind of market to exist, there must be a demand. Indeed, as we have seen over the past decade, art dealers are more than happy to ignore the provenance of certain pieces. Selling these types of antiquities in the black market involves the transfer and handling of a lot of money - millions of US dollars. At this price level, the antiquities are often associated with the prestigious actors or even governments. Too often, state governments do not take actions “required” by the body of international law under which the states carry out their relations with one another. The outcome of this negligence is contributing to the threats posed by and existence of terrorist organizations. In order to evaluate the relationship and overlap between art and international law, this paper will first look cases of art dealing with the United States, Cambodia, and Afghanistan. The paper will point out the actions of these governments and actors within them, notably Hobby Lobby, the Khmer Rouge, and the Taliban, respectively. The paper will then move onto the answer several questions regarding international law relating to each of these cases.

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