Showing posts with label Cultural Property Protection. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cultural Property Protection. Show all posts

May 14, 2016

Heritage Destruction in the Mediterranean Region

By Guest Editorial: Joris Kila, PhD
Cultural Adviser, The Hague Senior Researcher
Kompetenzzentrum Kulturelles Erbe und Kulturgüterschutz,
University of Vienna

This article is being released online in advance of publication in the IEMed Mediterranean Yearbook 2016 print issue. (

All over the news we see cultural property, the legal term widely used for cultural heritage, often connected to the cradles of civilisation, being damaged, smuggled and abused. Currently much devastation is taking place in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, more specifically the Mediterranean area, e.g. Syria, Iraq, Libya and Egypt. Within the size limitations of this article I will indicate some problems, causes and possible solutions regarding safeguarding cultural property. These examples will hopefully stimulate discussion, research and a more pro-active approach towards short and long-term solutions.

Problems and Deficiencies

Because of recent conflicts and upheavals, some of which are ongoing, substantial parts of the world’s cultural resources, which are not just artworks but also containers of identity and memory, have been lost or are under threat. In modern asymmetric conflicts, cultural property protection (CPP) is a complex and serious issue due to the variety of stakeholders with unbalanced interests, its multidisciplinary character and the potential sensitivity of heritage issues, which is often connected with local, national or religious identities. 

Since institutionalised CPP emergency activities as mandatory operations under national and international law are virtually absent, a small number of cultural experts, often acting as concerned private individuals without funding, took matters into their own hands to give a good example for official CPP institutions. This resulted in a modest number of relevant and innovative activities like undercover on-site emergency assessments and engagements with military stakeholders resulting, for instance, in cultural no-strike lists, as was used in Libya in 2011 and the development of CPP doctrines for military operational planning (Kila & Zeidler 2013, Kila & Herndon 2014).

Notwithstanding this, CPP should no longer be taken care of solely by the purview of this small group of concerned people. Phenomena like using cultural property to finance conflicts, iconoclasm, military aspects, CPP and global security, strategic communication (parties as protectors or destroyers of culture) and conflicting interests of old and new stakeholders need structural research and organisation. Furthermore, the links with identity, counterinsurgency, transnational organised crime and illicit trafficking, including its related transnational finance flows, heritage as a resource for local development and the overlap between cultural and natural resources need attention. Worldwide cooperation is also dependent on new stakeholders like military organisations, crime experts, tourism organisations and cultural diplomats. 

Although legal frameworks for heritage protection appear in place (e.g. The Hague 1954, the Rome Statute 1998), today’s state of cultural property in conflict areas clearly illustrates that the effectiveness of policies and strategies (to be) implemented by institutions tasked with CPP in the event of conflict are insufficient. Most institutions seem to lack pro-activity and tend towards bureaucratic and risk-avoiding behaviour (Wilson 1989, Kila 2012. Kila, Zeidler 2013). The latter relates to (over) politicising heritage because of sensitivity caused by identity, religion and economic issues. Consequently, essential developments concerning the changing status of heritage, its economic value, heritage protection as an instrument in counter-terrorism denying the enemy financial means to prolong a conflict and legal developments, e.g. the criminalisation of offenses against cultural property in international criminal law, are not studied in a coherent transdisciplinary context.

Organisations themselves claim lack of funding as a major reason for their indolence. In the meantime devastation continues, whereas the international cooperation, coordination and research that should drive transdisciplinary, interagency and emergency endeavours, as well as the necessary funding, is either lacking or misspent. In this context a recurring misconception is that although protection of heritage is important, aid to those in need because of conflicts and natural disasters should have priority. This line of argument does not hold water because one does not exclude the other. CPP and humanitarian aid are substantively and financially separate. No funds are withdrawn from monies allocated to humanitarian disasters when heritage is protected.

Europe and CPP

One could say that CPP including combating illicit trade in artifacts is not the specific capability of the EU. Certainly it is not stated per se in the treaties, but it does fall within several areas of EU competence. Examples of this are the internal market, freedom, security and justice (AFSJ) and culture along with common foreign and security policy (CFSP).

The EU probably has no CPP expertise capability but there are experts that can provide  knowledge on this. Stakeholders like NATO*,  Europol, INTERPOL and the International Criminal Court, all based in Europe, share identical problems (lack of cultural expertise and funding), so potentially this burden can be shared making it less costly and more efficient. An example: a potential step forward was made by creating the EU CULTNET,** in  theory a platform for networking, expertise and knowledge sharing. 

In 2015, the EU Parliament called on Member States to take necessary steps to involve universities, research bodies and cultural institutions in the fight against illicit trade in cultural goods from war areas. Instead of just calling the usual re-active institutions, and in an attempt to really act without delay, a task force including cultural experts with proven track records and strong networks is highly advisable. Such an entity can be created at short notice to provide expert advice for all stakeholders. Simultaneously Europe should start coordination, research and education regarding CPP and the implementation of (legal) instruments to safeguard cultural property.  Currently the  United   States  do more  than  Europe,  and unfortunately there is little cooperation with them on this topic; maybe this will change when Europe follows in taking responsibility for CPP in the context of conflicts.

The Mediterranean Region

Cultural heritage can suffer from multiple types of damage and offences related to conflict. Typical examples include collateral damage, vandalism, encroachment as part of development, iconoclasm and looting. In Libya and Syria all these phenomena occur simultaneously; Syria is already seriously affected and Libyan heritage is, for the most part, still under threat. 

Moreover, we should consider that, according to several sources, substantial numbers of artefacts looted and smuggled out of the Mediterranean region are likely hidden in secret depots. These will enter the market in the future. As the NY Times put it: "Long-established smuggling organizations are practiced in getting the goods to people willing to pay for them, and patient enough to stash ancient artifacts in warehouses until scrutiny dies down. ***

Some Case Examples


Many important sites, libraries, archives, churches and mosques in Syria were destroyed in 2015. All warring parties are guilty of devastation and illicit trade, but  IS  drew  the  most  attention. We all remember images of temples and graves in Palmyra being blown up by IS, not to mention the execution of Palmyrian archaeologist Khaled  al-Asaad in August 2015.

In Syria, we see the return of iconoclasm driven and legitimized as an excuse for eliminating perceptions of  heresy  as well  as the  'recycling' of antique monuments  originally  built  for defense, like Krak de Chevaliers, Palmyra's Fakhr-al-Din al-Ma'ani Castle or the destroyed Temple of Bel. Iconoclasm is not only directed at immovable heritage but also at written heritage making manuscripts and books equally at risk. 

The majority of today's warring parties are guilty of destruction intentionally or by accident while disregarding cultural  property's protected status under (inter)national laws. The increase in looting and illicit traffic of cultural property, the revenues from which are used to finance conflicts, implies that CPP can be a military incentive (force multiplier) denying the enemy the means to prolong a conflict. 

CPP should therefore be part of military operational planning processes (OPP). NATO could play a role in this, helped by cultural experts, by supplying CPP doctrine planning models to Member States. The ICC should investigate possibilities of prosecuting cultural war crimes in Syria through international criminal law and certain treaties that give the ICC jurisdiction in Libya. Cultural expertise is needed for organizations like the ICC and, therefore, funding has to be in place.


Present-day Libya is divided in two parts controlled by two rival 'governments ': in Tripoli and (recognized internationally) Tobruk. Negotiations are taking place under supervision of the United Nations to unite the country again. The latest news is the announcement of a new government of national accord temporarily based in Tunis. The Department  of Antiquities  in Tripoli is still active (January 2016) and has made urgent demands for international help in order to assess the nature  of the  threats  against  Libyan heritage in situ and to find simple and cheap solutions. 

Libya has five UNESCO World Heritage sites: the ancient Greek archaeological sites of Cyrene; the Roman ruins of Leptis Magna; the Phoenician port of Sabratha; the  rock-art  sites  of  the  Acacus Mountains in the Sahara Desert; and old Ghadamès, an oasis city. 

Sites like Leptis Magna are out in the open and exposed to all kinds of threats, especially theft and urban encroachment. The Benghazi area suffers from a lack of security, and Cyrene is not only threatened by looting, but  also by (illegal) commercial developments destroying precious heritage. 

At the end of 2015, pro-ISIL militants took temporary control of part of the town of Sabratha to free members seized by a rival militia. Libya's anti- government Islamic militants have aligned with IS and are active in the surrounding areas of Sabratha, which people fear will fall victim to iconoclasm and looting. 

Iconoclastic attacks have already taken place against Sufi tombs and mosques, amongst others, in Tripoli. Several international structures and organizations exist that could and should deal with CPP in Libya but they are not doing so (effectively) because they are (or feel) restricted often by their own governments, due to possible political implications.


Cultural heritage abuse and destruction are rampant. Old phenomena like iconoclasm are back in strength. Iconoclasm arose in Europe in the iconoclastic rage of 1566 in which the Calvinists destroyed statues in Catholic churches and monasteries. Apart from being driven by religious motives, the destruction of antiquities and cultural objects of heritage in the Mediterranean region seems to be used as a modern form of psychological warfare. Attacks on cultural heritage also show elements of cultural genocide and, as acknowledged by the United Nations, war crimes or even crimes against humanity.

Monuments and cultural objects stand for the identity of groups and individuals. lf you want to hurt a society or a nation at its heart or erase their existence from historical memory, then their cultural heritage is a grateful prey. The main concern is that there is presently no operational protection system being implemented based on international cooperation and coordination. Legal obligations and sanctions are not sufficiently implemented and enforced - for instance, cultural war crimes should be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court.  

Can we stop the destruction of our shared cultural heritage in the Mediterranean area? 

This is hard to say, but we, especially Europa, should now, more than ever, resist the dismantling of our shared identity and become pro­ active.

--Mr. Kila will be speaking at the Saint Petersburg Institute of Oriental Manuscripts Conference: "Facing the Chaos. Tangible and Intangible Heritage Protection in the XXI century" on May 19, 2016.

* Military organizations especially NATO do not have CPP expertise nor are they hiring experts to educate the military and to bring CPP into operational planning doctrines.
** Council Resolution 14232/12 of 4 October 2012 on the creation of an informal network of law enforcement authorities and expertise competent in the field of cultural goods  (EU CULTNET).
***Source accessed on 20 January 2016. 



KILA J. and HERNDON C. "Military  involvement  in Cultural Property Protection: An Overview by Joris Kila and Christopher Herndon" in Joint  Forces Quarterly, JFQ 74, 3rd Quarter 2014 July 2014.

KILA J. and ZEIDLER JA "Military Involvement in Cultural Property   Protection   as   part   of   Preventive Conservation'  In   Cultural  Heritage in  the Crosshairs: Protecting Cultural Property during Conflict, Kila, J. and Zeidler, J. (Eds), Leiden­ Boston 2013. Conclusion, Joris D. Kila and James A. Zeidler ibid. Pp. 9-50 and Pp.351-353.

KILA J. Heritage under Siege. Military implementation of  Cultural  Property Protection following the1954 Hague Convention Leiden-Boston 2012.

WILSON J. Bureaucracy. What Government Agencies Do and Why They Do it, New York, 1989.

December 1, 2013

ARCA Associates participating in International Conference on Protecting Cultural Heritage As a Common Good of Humanity: A Challenge for Criminal Justice; Italian conference scheduled Dec. 13-15 in Courmayeur Mont Blanc

ARCA's CEO Lynda Albertson; ARCA lecturer Richard Ellis and 2012 and 2013 award winners, Jason Felch and Duncan Chappell, will be speaking at the International Conference on Protecting Cultural Heritage As a Common Good of Humanity: A Challenge for Criminal Justice on December 13-15 in Courmayeur Mont Blanc in Italy 13-15 December 2013.

This cultural heritage protection conference is the initiative of International Scientific and Professional Advisory Council of the United Nations; Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programme-ISPAC; Fondazione Centro Nazionale di Prevenzione e Difesa Sociale-CNPDS; and Fondazione Courmayeur Mont Blanc in co-operation with United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime-UNODC, Vienna under the auspices of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
ISPAC is organizing an International Conference aimed at exploring the indispensable role of crime prevention and criminal justice responses, at both international and domestic level, in combating all forms of trafficking in cultural property and related offences in a comprehensive and effective manner. This Conference addressed to international organizations, national enforcement agencies, academics, cultural institutions, private sector operators in art and antiquities follows a long-established commitment of ISPAC in the protection of cultural heritage and public goods as one of the most relevant challenges for contemporary criminal policy. Cultural heritage has come to be perceived not only as an asset for the "source Countries", but also, more relevantly, as the object of a cultural right any human being is entitled to, as well as a fundamental heritage for the whole mankind. Hence the growing interest that the United Nations, as well as many other international organizations, have been developing in the phenomenon, and the commitment to produce and implement international legal instruments aimed at protecting cultural heritage. 
In the past, several instruments have been adopted. The prevention and sanctioning of harms traditionally inflicted to cultural property during wars was the first aim to be pursued through the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (1954), and its Additional Protocols as well as the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions (1977). Other interventions by the international community focussed on illicit imports, exports and transfers of ownership of cultural property under any kind of circumstance, and namely the UNESCO Convention (1970), as well as the UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects (1995). The international commitment to the safeguard of cultural heritage found also expression in several other international instruments, such as the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage (2001), the European Convention on Offences relating to Cultural Property (1985), the European Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage (1969) and its revised version (1992). 
Nowadays the pervasiveness of this phenomenon, and its very complex features, are increasingly acknowledged at both international and national level. Trafficking in cultural property, as well as all other crimes related to cultural objects (such as looting, illicit import and export, forgery, and so on), are believed to be a constantly growing sector of criminality, and an increasingly attractive one for national and transnational criminal organizations. Hence, too, the growing involvement of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in drafting and implementing international instruments to face offences against cultural heritage. Since 2009 several initiatives were adopted pursuant to Economic and Social Council resolution 2008/23. In its resolution 2010/19, then, the Council considered that the Organized Crime Convention (2000), as well as the UN Convention against Corruption (2003), should be fully used for the purpose of strengthening the fight against trafficking in cultural property. At its twentieth session, the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice prepared a draft resolution (2011/42) entitled Strengthening Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Responses to Protect Cultural Property, Especially with Regard to its Trafficking, in which it mandated the Secretariat to further explore the development of specific guidelines for crime prevention and criminal justice responses with respect to trafficking in cultural property, and invited Member States to submit written comments on the UN Model Treaty for the Prevention of Crimes that Infringe on the Cultural Heritage of Peoples in the Form of Movable Property. Finally, in April 2013, the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice recommended to the ECOSOC a draft resolution on Strengthening Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Responses to Protect Cultural Property, Especially with Regard to its Trafficking, to be submitted for adoption to the General Assembly. The Thirteenth United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (to be held in Qatar in 2015) will specifically focus - among others - on comprehensive and balanced approaches to prevent and adequately respond to new and emerging forms of transnational crime, such as trafficking of cultural property. 
ISPAC's Conference aims at exploring the indispensable role of crime prevention and criminal justice responses in combating all forms of trafficking in cultural property and related offences in a comprehensive and effective manner; the need for States to consider reviewing their legal frameworks, in order to provide the most extensive international cooperation to fully address trafficking in cultural property; the possibility for national jurisdictions to make trafficking in cultural property (including stealing and looting at archaeological and other cultural sites) a serious crime, as defined in art. 2 UNCTOC, as well as to fully utilize that Convention for the purpose of extensive international cooperation; finally, the importance of a speedy and effective finalization of the Guidelines, on the basis of the work carried out in the last years. Further issues worth consideration will be the need for credible and comparable data on different aspects of crimes against cultural property, including the links with transnational organized crime and the laundering of illicit proceeds, as well as the benefits of collecting and comparing best practices both in the public and in the private sector. 
PROGRAMME (contacts with panellists are in progress)
Opening Session • LODOVICO PASSERIN de ENTRÈVES, Chair of the Scientific Committee of the Courmayeur Mont Blanc Foundation, Italy • FABRIZIA DERRIARD, Mayor of Courmayeur, Italy • AUGUSTO ROLLANDIN, President, Region of Aosta Valley, Italy • LIVIA POMODORO, President, Court of Milan, Italy; CNPDS/ISPAC Chairman • Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism • Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Keynote Address • JOHN SANDAGE, Director Division for Treaty Affairs, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime-UNODC, Vienna, Austria 
Session I ILLEGAL TRAFFIC OF CULTURAL PROPERTY : THE NEED FOR A REFORM Chair DUNCAN CHAPPELL, Professor of Criminal Law and Criminology, University of Sydney, Australia; ISPAC Board Member
• Cultural Heritage and Commons: New Tasks for International Community. UGO MATTEI, Professor of Private Comparative Law at University of Turin, Italy; University of California, Hastings College of Law, USA 
• Curbing Illegal Traffic of Cultural Property: Initiatives at the International Level STEFANO MANACORDA, Professor of Criminal Law at the University of Naples II, Italy; Collège de France, Paris, France; Deputy Chair and Director ISPAC 
• Anatomy of a Statue Trafficking Network: an Empirical Report from Regional Case Study Fieldwork SIMON MACKENZIE, Professor of Criminology, Law and Society at the University of Glasgow, UK
• ALBERTO DEREGIBUS, Colonel, Cultural Heritage Protection Unit, Carabinieri Corps, UNESCO, Paris, France
• SARA GREENBLATT, Chief, Organized Crime Branch, Division for Treaty Affairs, UNODC, Vienna, Austria
• FOLARIN SHYLLON, Professor at Faculty of Law, University of Ibadan, Nigeria 
Session III INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION: OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES NATIONAL JURISDICTION Chair EMILIO VIANO, Professor, Department of Justice, Law and Society, American University, Washington DC, USA 
• HUANG FENG, Professor of Criminal Law, Director Institute for International Criminal Law, Beijing Normal University, China 
• DEREK FINCHAM, Associate Professor, South Texas College of Law, Houston, USA 
• Cultural heritage crime in the Islamic Penal Code of Iran MIR MOHAMMAD SADEGHI, Professor of Criminal Law and Head of Department of Criminal Law and Criminology, Shahid Beheshti University, Tehran, Iran; UNESCO Chairholder for Human Rights, Peace And Democracy, Shahid Beheshti University, Tehran, Iran 
• HELENA REGINA LOBO DA COSTA, Professor, University of São Paulo, Brazil (tbc) 
• ADOLFO MEDRANO MALLQUI, Professor of Criminal Law, Lawyer, Lima, Peru Coffee Break 
SESSION III (continued) POLICE COOPERATION Chair EMILIO VIANO, Professor, Department of Justice, Law and Society, American University, Washington DC, USA 
• RICHARD ELLIS, Founder of Scotland Yard! s Art and Antiquities Squad, London, UK • ANTONIO COPPOLA, Major, Head of the Operative Cultural Heritage Protection Unit, Carabinieri Corps, Rome, Italy 
• STÉPHANE GAUFFENY, Colonel, Central office for the fight against Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods (OCBC), Central Directorate of Judicial Police, Paris, France (tbc) 
• DOMENICO GIANI, Inspector General of the Gendarmeria Corps, Vatican City (tbc 
SESSION III (continued) RETURN, RESTITUTION AND CONFISCATION Chair LUIS ARROYO ZAP ATERO, Professor of Criminal Law, Universidad Castilla-la-Mancha, Spain
• Restitution and International Judicial Cooperation MARC-ANDRÉ RENOLD, Professor of Art and Cultural Property Law; Director of the Art-Law Centre; Holder of the UNESCO Chair in the International Law of Cultural Heritage at the University of Geneva, Switzerland
MARIE PFAMMATTER, post doctoral researcher, University of Geneva, Switzerland
• PASCAL BEAUVAIS, Professor, University of Paris Ouest Nanterre, Paris France
• STEVEN FELDMAN, Partner, Herrick, Feinstein LLP, New York, USA
• MARK V. VLASIC, Senior Fellow & Adjunct Professor of Law, Georgetown University, Washington, USA
• ROBERT WITTMAN, Art Crime Investigator, President of Robert Wittman Inc., Pennsylvania, USA
• JAMES RATCLIFFE, Head of Recoveries, The Art Loss Register-ALR, London, UK
• LYNDA ALBERTSON, Chief Executive Officer, Association for Research into Crimes against Art-ARCA, Rome, Italy
• ROBERT N. LAYNE, Executive Director, International Foundation for Cultural Property Protection, Denver, CO, USA
• MARK STARLING, Chair, International Convention Of Exhibition And Fine Art Transporters-ICEFAT, Toronto, Canada
Round Table PROTECTING CULTURAL PROPERTY: CASE STUDIES AND BEST PRACTICES Chair SIMON MACKENZIE, Professor of Criminology, Law and Society at the University of Glasgow, UK 
• GIOVANNI MELILLO, Prosecutor, Court of Naples, Italy 
• FABRIZIO LEMME, Professor and Lawyer, Rome, Italy
• TESS DAVIS, Vice Chair of the American Society of International Law! s Cultural Heritage and the Arts Interest Group - Researcher SCCJR, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Glasgow, UK 
• FABIO ISMAN, Journalist, Italy 
• JASON FELCH, Journalist, Los Angeles Times, USA 
Conference Venue Conference Hall, Hôtel Pavillon Via Regionale, 62 - 11013 Courmayeur (AO) Official Languages English and Italian with simultaneous interpretation 
Conference Secretariat Fondazione Centro nazionale di prevenzione e difesa sociale-CNPDS Palazzo Comunale delle Scienze Sociali 3, Piazza Castello - 20121 Milano MI Tel.: +39 02 - Fax: +39 02 E-mail: - Home page: Home page:

February 13, 2013

ARCA Alum Julia Brennan Invited to Speak at the Conference on Protection of Cultural Property in Asia, Feb. 15-18, 2013

Julia Brennan
ARCA Alum (2009) and textile conservator Julia Brennan will be one of the speakers at the Conference on Protection of Cultural Property in Asia in the Kingdom of Bhutan this week.  Ms. Brennan has worked in Bhutan and Thailand for more than a decade. She will be speaking on "Deterring the Illicit Art Trade and Preserving Cultural Heritage: The Essential Role of Collection Care Professionals and Preventive Conservation" on a panel moderated by Professor Wendy Larson, a specialist in East Asian Language and Literature at the University of Oregon.

Here's a link to the final agenda for the conference to be held Feb. 15-18.  Speakers include: Mr. Etienne Clement, Deputy Director, UNESCO, Bangkok, "International Convention on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Objects and other specific action by UNESCO"; Jean-Robert Gisler, Switzerland, "Fight Against Illicit Trafficking in Cultural Property in Switzerland as a Market Country: Organization, Perspective and Institutional Policy"; Karl-Heinz Kind, Germany: "Role of INTERPOL in the Fight Against Illicit Trafficking in Cultural Property"; Tshewang Gyalpo, Bhutan: "Protecting Moveable Cultural Properties in Bhutan"; Martin Finkelnberg, The Netherlands, "Technical Aspects of Protecting Cultural Property - Networking: A case of The Netherlands"; Ann Shaftel, Canada, "Need for Implementing Security Training in Traditional Buddhist Monasteries and Nunneries"; Dr. Iain Shearer, "The Trade in Illicit Afghan Cultural Property in London: The Response of Key British Institutions Since 2006"; Duncan Chappell, Australia and Damien Huffer, "Bringing Them Home: Some Contemporary Australian Perspectives on the Investigation, Prosecution, Seizure and Repatriation of Looted Asian Region Human Remains and Artefacts"; Major Guy Tubiana, France, "Experience of a Police Officer in the Protection of Cultural Property"; and Fabrizio Panone, Italy, "Fight Against Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Heritage: Oppositional Activities at International Level".

September 13, 2012

Documentarian Brent Huffman Warns of Dangerous Precedent Being Set in Afghanistan if Mes Aynak is destroyed in order to mine copper

Brent Huffman filming one of the temples
set for destruction (Frank Petrella) 
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Documentary filmmaker Brent E. Huffman will return to Mes Aynak this December for what some archaeologists call the ‘funeral’ of the ancient site which will be cratered to extract copper (valued at over 100 billion dollars) underground, potentially setting a dangerous precedent for other ancient sites on top of gold, copper, oil and coal mines in Afghanistan.

“My documentary finishes in December which feels like the definitive end to the site,” Huffman said. “I started out with the goal of capturing what is there and to record the difficult process of salvaging objects. But I have come to hope that maybe I can help raise awareness to actually save Mes Aynak, or at least postpone its destruction.”

Huffman and German Camera Productions initially set out to record the Buddhist monasteries and stupas in “the red zone” of this ancient city before a Chinese state-owned company, China Mettalurgical  Group Corporation, (MCC) begins work on a 30-year lease (for which they paid $3 billion) to extract copper by demolishing the entire mountain range.

Abdul Qadeer Temore, lead Afghan archaeologist, working
on the large standing Buddhas. (Brent Huffman)
“My fear is that Mes Aynak will be a precedent and that every site with gold, copper, oil or iron underneath will also be dealt with by this same standard. This is what happens to cultural heritage. This Bronze Age site will be gone when the mountain range is destroyed and all the Afghans will be left with is a toxic crater that will pollute the river and the environment. The future of Afghanistan will be a rush job of leaving polluted craters that will destroy the environment and the cultural heritage.”

The December deadline to end rescue archaeological efforts is pretty firm, according to Mr. Huffman’s discussions with the Afghan Ministry of Culture and the U. S. Embassy. “But the big question is are the Chinese ready to start mining?”

The Mes Anyak archaeological site was rediscovered in the 1960s. Researchers now believe the site not only provides artifacts from the 1st through the 5th centuries but also going back to the Bronze Age. The 400,000 square meter site was never fully excavated or protected from looting during the decades of almost continuous fighting in Afghanistan.

A head sculpted in the Gandhara style. (Brent Huffman)
“Archaeologists are frantically performing rescue archaeology which is pretty destructive. Like looting, much of the context gets lost as archaeologists rush to salvage moveable objects,” Huffman said, explaining that DAFA, the French archaeological delegation, and Afghan archaeologists have worked intermittently over the past two years through harsh weather and dangerous war-zone conditions at this former Al Qaeda training camp.

“My understanding is that archaeologists were given three years to complete a project that should take up to 30 years,” Huffman said. “The area is so dangerous. Last summer a worker uncovered a land mind which blew up in his face.”

“This is an important project to a small group of Afghan archaeologists who have worked at the site for the past two years,” Huffman said. “International archaeologists have visited the site in an advisory capacity but the accessibility has been limited by ongoing military conflict.”

Local people from Logar province have been involved in the digging and the unearthing structures, according to Huffman.

Afghan archaeologists work with crude tools and often protection of the artifacts is limited to coverings by plastic tarps and wooden crates.

“Afghanistan is the Wild West with so much corruption,” Huffman said. “What I don’t like about the argument of mining ‘responsibly’ and ‘preserving’ cultural sites is that in the end it won’t be good for Afghanistan. The money will be lost in corruption, the high-level jobs will go to the Chinese, and the locals will get the low paid slave labor jobs. Plus, the toxins left over from mining will be in the ground permanently. Advocates for Mes Aynak have tried to get cooperation between the mining and cultural preservation but it doesn’t seem that anyone involved sees any value in the Mes Aynak site.” 

A Buddhist stupa from Mes Aynak (Huffman)
“The US Military will be pulling troops out of Afghanistan in 2014 which is not good,” Huffman said. “The World Bank has put in a lot of money to support the mining yet there’s a shortage of funds to support the archaeological work. For example, the Czech Republic promised $5,000 to the Afghan team for computers and digital cameras but I was told that the money was stopped from coming through.”

Huffman plans to return to Mes Aynak in December. “In October there will be some 3-D reconstruction work and I will send someone to film that if I can’t go. I will be there in December for what the archaeologists call the ‘funeral’ and I hope we can stop it from happening. There is something so disrespectful about blowing up the site. It’s troubling to have no reverence for the past as if someone is looting your grandparents’ cemetery.”

“In Mes Aynak, the silence gives me a sense of connection to the past,” Huffman said. “My mind floods with what life was like in this vibrant city. Recklessly destroying it is like erasing history.”

“The resilience of this site amazes me,” Huffman said. “It has been through so much as a major hub on the Silk Road. The murals and statues are so fragile and yet they have survived harsh winters, floods and snow and fighting amidst land mines and rocket attacks. Yet Mes Aynak still manages to survive and pull people in who fall in love with it and want to save it.”

“Most Afghans don’t know that this is happening because there’s been no coverage in the local media,” Huffman said. “Americans think of Afghanistan is terrorists or victims or terrorism but it’s not that – Afghans are warm, friendly and open-minded people. The Buddhist sites are a testimony to Afghanistan’s past. The Taliban are an external force that destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan and now the Chinese mining company will do the same thing at Mes Aynak. Afghans need someone like UNESCO to push back against these money deals that don’t care about cultural heritage, but this is not happening today.”

Here's a link to the petition to President Hamid Karzai to prevent the destruction of the archaeological site Mes Aynak and a relevant Facebook page, The Buddhas of Aynak.

Here's a link to the article Huffman wrote for the Asia Society on this subject.

September 11, 2012

Mes Aynak's archaeological wealth from the Bronze Age to ancient Buddhists threatened by excavation of world's second largest copper deposit

An Afghan archaeologist examines
 a Buddha in Mes Aynak (Penn Museum)
by Catherine Sezgin,
ARCA Blog Editor

What are Buddhas doing in Islamic Afghanistan?

In addition to the gigantic Buddhas destroyed by the Taliban in 2001, another Buddhist site, Mes Aynak, in Afghanistan is being threatened by the country's desire to improve its economy by extracting natural resources.

Archaeologist believe Afghanistan may have been farmed by humans for as long as 50,000 years. Today's war-torn Afghanistan, with commercial centers and an art culture dating back to the Bronze Age, was controlled by numerous empires and dynasties -- Aryans and the Medes, Achaemenid invasion and Zoroastrianism, Greco-Bactrian rule, Maurya Empire, Sassanid Empire, and the Shahi dynasty. Darius the Great marched his Persian army into the region in 500 BC, almost two centuries before Alexander the Great defeated Darius III. The inhabitants of the area traditionally practiced Hinduism then Buddhism when it became part of the Kushan Empire in the first century.

Located 18 miles south of Kabul, the ancient site of Mess Aynak was rediscovered in the mid-20th century. Now archaeologists have less than four months to extract artifacts from Mes Aynak before a Chinese company begins mining the world's second largest copper deposit.

The Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage (ARCH International) explains in a video the cultural importance of the monasteries and fortifications of Mess Aynak and the other pottery and jewelry found at this 5,000 site. The organization asks that responsible mining methods be used to help preserve the most important archaeological sites.

Here in a CNN video, documentary filmmaker Brent E. Huffman also shows the archaeological digs at Mes Aynak which will be closed in December. According to Mr. Huffman, it would take 30-35 years to properly excavate this site.

A petition to President Hamid Karzai requests the preservation of the ancient site of Mes Aynak. Here's a link to the petition.

Another petition sponsored by the Association for Protection of Afghan Archaeology (APAA) with more than 13,000 signatures asks UNESCO to include Mess Aynak, Afghanistan, on the Endangered Sites and the World Heritage List.

Afghanistan ratified UNESCO's 1970 Convention in 1979.  Two cultural sites are listed on the World Heritage List: Cultural Landscape and Archaeological Remains of the Bamiyan Valley (2003) and Minaret and Archaeological Remains of Jam (2002).

Here's a link to the Penn Museum blog with a post about Mess Aynak.

August 30, 2012

Violence escalates in Bamiyan, killing 5 New Zealand soldiers in the last month, and threatening an ancient culture and people as troops plan to withdraw from Afghanistan

Last month on the ARCA blog we interviewed Oxford's Llewelyn Morgan, author of the book, The Buddhas of Bamiyan (published in the United States by Harvard University Press). Last week at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, I was fortunate to find a copy of this compact account of the history of how Buddhist statues survived for more than 1,000 years in an Islamic country. Today, Laurie King for the Los Angeles Times, reports escalating violence, including the deaths of five New Zealand soldiers in the last month, in the province of Bamiyan. (You can view the moving video of the Maori funeral Haka farewell dance at the funeral of three of the soldiers last week). Formerly considered a stable region, Afghan police died in bombing attacks in July, and last year the Taliban kidnapped and beheaded Jawad Zehak, Bamiyan's provincial leader. The two gigantic Buddhas, which overlooked a valley of commerce for centuries, survived Ghengis Khan and others until destroyed by the Taliban in the spring of 2001. Additional information about the history of the area and the archaeological importance of what remains can be seen on UNESCO's website on the Bamiyan valley; through the website of the Sacred Land Film Project; and through the website of the Association for the Protection of Afghan Archaeology.

How Playing Cards Protect Archaeological Sites in Combat Zones

This summer 'Voice of America' reporter Nancy Greenleese discussed with ARCA's Writer in Residence Laurie Rush ("It's all in the cards Inside Europe") how the military uses images on the back of playing cards to protect archaeological sites located in combat zones. Here's a link to the radio broadcast and here's a link to the printed interview.

August 15, 2012

Q&A with Joris Kila and Karl von Habsburg in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime

Editor-in-Chief Noah Charney features "Q&A with Joris Kila and Karl von Habsburg" in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime. Kila and Habsburg are co-winners of the 2012 ARCA Award for Art Protection and Security. For more information about them, please see the article on ARCA Award winners in this issue.  Joris Kila answered questions on behalf of both parties.

Joris Kila is chairman of the International Military Cultural Resources Work Group. He is a researcher at the Institute of Culture and History of the University of Amsterdam, and a board member for civil-military relations with the World Association for the Protection of Tangible and Intangible Cultural Heritage in Times of Armed Conflict (WATCH), based in Rome. Additionally, he is a former community fellow of the Cultural Policy Center at the University of Chicago.  He is a member of the US Commands Cultural Historical Action Group and Chair of the International Cultural Resources Working Group. Until recently he served as network manager and acting chairman of the cultural affairs dept. at the Civil-Military Co-operation (CIMIC) Group North in the Netherlands. In that capacity he undertook several cultural rescue missions in Iraq and FYROM (Macedonia).
Noah Charney: Tell me about the Austrian Society for the Protection of Cultural Heritage and Blue Shield Austria. How did these initiatives begin and what are some of their current projects?
Joris Kila: The current Austrian situation concerning the implementation of the 1954 Hague Convention (1954 HC) for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, especially within the Austrian Armed Forces (AAF), is not the product of well-organized activity; it is rather the result of a number of individuals’ efforts while working in a variety of positions at the right time. A long time passed between Austria’s 1964 ratification of the 1954 Hague Convention, and its implementation and dissemination within the AAF. The first Austrian “military mission” in which cultural property protection (CPP) played a role, occurred in 1968 in the context of the “Prague Spring.” The Austrian government and military leaders expected Soviet troops to cross Austrian territory on their way to Prague, violating the country’s sovereignty and neutrality. Knowing that the Soviet troops could not be stopped by military force, Austria prepared for an invasion. By initiative of the Federal Bureau for Monuments and Sites (FBMS) and under the supervision of its provincial departments, hundreds of Blue Shields, the emblem of the 1954 HC, were distributed in districts of eastern and northern Austria and, through the active participation of gendarmerie and army officers, these were attached to historical or cultural monuments along the anticipated Soviet route through Austria. It was greatly feared that Soviet troops would not respect Austria’s rich cultural heritage, which had already suffered badly during World War II. 
The idea was that this time the enemy would at least be made aware of the fact that with every destructive step they took, they were likely to be violating international law. This form of resistance without force at the climax of the Cold War initiated the birth of some sort of “Blue Shield Movement” in Austria, which finally resulted in the foundation of the Austrian Society for the Protection of Cultural Property in 1980. This civil organization is still characterized by having many regular and militia army officers among its members who are entrusted with most of the positions on its steering board. The Society also played an initial and decisive role in setting up the Austrian National Committee of the Blue Shield in 2008. Therefore, both organizations – forming an interface between civil and military expertise as well as providing an unrivaled pool of experts within Austria – consequently have an interest and high competence in (today's) military CPP. 
You may read the rest of this interview in The Journal of Art Crime by subscribing through ARCA's website.

March 7, 2012

Smithsonian Institute's National Conference on Cultural Property Protection at The Getty Feb. 27-29

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

The Smithsonian Institution’s National Conference on Cultural Property Protection was held February 27 through 29 at The Getty here in Los Angeles.

The first day at The Getty Center in Brentwood, which I missed, included presentations titled “Domestic Terrorism” (Jim McJunkin, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office); “Year-in-Review” (Bob Combs, Director of Security at The J. Paul Getty Trust); “Natural Disasters” (Dr. Lucy Jones, US Geological Survey); “FBI Art Theft Update” (FBI Special Agents Miguel Luna and Elizabeth Rivas); “Fire Protection: Emerging Technology” (fire protection consultant Debbie Freeland & Danny McDaniel, Director of Security at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation); “Priceless: Undercover Rescue of Stolen Treasures” (Bob Wittman, founder of the FBI’s Rapid Deployment National Art Crime Team).

At Monday’s luncheon, JJ McLaughlin, retired Board Chair/Office of Protection Services Director at the Smithsonian Institution, received an award in the memory of Robert Burke, founder and first director of the Office of Protection Services at the Smithsonian Institution.

The second day of the conference, held at the Getty Villa in Malibu on a beautiful sunny day typical in February in California, began with two early morning presentations, “Safe Heritage in the Netherlands” (Hanna Pennock, Senior Specialist of Safety and Security and Programme Manager of the Safe Heritage Cultural Heritage Agency, Amersfoort, The Netherlands) and “Earthquakes: Reducing the Threat” (Jerry Podany, senior conservator of antiquities for the J. Paul Getty Museum).

I was able to sit in on a few mid-day presentations which are highlighted here.

“Detection of Deviant Behavior”

Emile Broersma, Director of Security & Safety at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, introduced the work of researchers Dianne van Hemert and Maaike Lousberg in the presentation on “Detection of Deviant Behavior.”

The Rijksmuseum, which has been undergoing a decade-long $600 million expansion, has offered limited access to its 1.1 million art objects. It’s collection of 17th century Dutch paintings range from Rembrandt’s wall size “Nightwatch” to numerous small paintings by Vermeer. The renovated Rijksmuseum is scheduled to open in April of next year.

Broersma told the audience of mostly security management from cultural institutions from Europe and the United States that in 2013 the Rijksmuseum expects 2 million visitors a year, a 40% increase over its neighbor and the most visited cultural institution in The Netherlands, the Van Gogh Museum. Broersma said with the economic crisis in Europe that has impacted funding for cultural centers in The Netherlands, he is turning to “intelligence-based security executed by proactive guards” who are trained to recognize a potential threat in advance and to take appropriate action. “I would rather have 10 well-trained officers than 30 traditionally trained officers,” Broersma said.

The new Rijksmuseum will feature a semi-public atrium similar to the Louvre in Paris where people can move around the space without a ticket. Broersma plans to position guards to observe and respond to all types of behavior in this heavily trafficked area and place fewer guards in exhibition areas. Maiike Lousberg initiated the research with the scientific lead, Dianne van Hemert, PhD, both with the independent research institute TNO ( who conducted scientific research to gather information about museum goers and the qualities sought after in security personnel.

“Deviant behavior is behavior you would not normally expect in a specific context,” Dr. van Hemert explained to the audience. Vandals and thieves may exhibit signs or behavior that might be observed by different people in different places throughout the day, she explained. “We are not going to provide a list because there is no such list, deviant behavior depends on the time, the culture, and the context.”

“It’s never one deviant behavior that indicates something has gone wrong,” Dr. van Hemert said. “It’s a combination of different behaviors.” She explained that flexibility on the part of the security personnel is required to adapt to every situation. “We don’t think of officers as profiling people which is a negative connotation, but as looking for behavior patterns. Vandals will try to hide their behavior but not everything can be suppressed.”

At the same time, observant security guards have to balance the public’s desire to see the collection on display. “All the people have come to look at the collection so it’s easier to see what is normal and what is not normal,” Dr. van Hemert said. She advocated that officers not react so as to intensify the situation, but to engage in “prickling”, or gently approaching the visitor to inquire about intent.

“DHS Resources for Cultural Properties”

William Schweigart, Program Analyst for the Department of Homeland Security Office of Infrastructure Protection, Commercial Facilities Sector Specific Agency, presented “Department of Homeland Security Resources for Cultural Properties.” Mr. Schweigart pointed out free voluntary assessment program and a risk self-assessment tool available at He showed a 4-minute video, “Active Shooter – How to Respond” which will be released shortly. Other sources of information can be found at and Commercial Facilities Training Resources at He said that “Risk = threat x vulnerability x consequence”; “threat depends on adversary capability and intent”, and responsiveness is assessed.

“Security Planning”

Dennis Ahern, Head of Safety and Security at the Tate Galleries in London, spoke on “Security Planning”. Ahern is also on the Board of Directors of ARCA.

“The public display of art and artefacts carries risk!” read the slide Mr. Ahern produced onstage. “We cannot get rid of risk altogether but we can aim to reduce it.”

His first step in developing a risk assessment in regards to damaging or losing the collection was to ask, “What could possibly go wrong?”

Accidental damage from visitors is more common than a heist: malicious damage (Gerard Jan van Bladeren’s slashing of paintings by Abstract painter Barnett Newman at the Stedelijk Museum in 1986 and 1997) and iconoclasm (imposing a green dollar sign on Malevich’s white painting). [You may read further about vandalism and art on]

“Art theft is fairly rare and the incidents are relatively low,” Mr. Ahern told the audience. Theft types can be categorized as “stay behind” (when visitors linger after closing); internal (typically small artefacts that are easy to handle and hard to identify); souvenirs (when visitors take portions of contemporary artworks); artworks in transit; snatches; burglar (after hours theft); metals theft (“becoming a real problem with the roofs of historic buildings”); and armed robbery (“this is becoming more of a risk”).

“All of the major art thefts in recent times has involved organized crime,” Mr. Ahern said. “Having artwork is not as hazardous as weapons or drugs and is a good collateral to be used as currency.”

In security surveys, which answer the question ‘what could possibly go wrong?’, Mr. Ahern likes to think about low tech solutions which can be very effective (such as fixing pictures in place with fishing line) and to create distance from the object.

“Security: Finding Balance”

Jim Lucey, Security Director at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, spoke on “Security: Finding Balance” which covered his interest in security technology (IRIS Scanners, Thermal Cameras, Portable Instate Identity Verification, digital keys, and Behavioral Analytics Video Surveillance) interesting incidents at the National Gallery of Art in 2011 (Susan Burns' banging of Henry Matisse’s  1919 The Plumed Hat in August and the unexpected earthquake on August 23).

On Tuesday afternoon, two concurrent panels, “Creating an Effective Disaster & Emergency Response Plan” (Matthew Andrus, Mark Pollei, and Julie Williamsen from Brigham Young University) and “TSA Certified Cargo Screening Program” (Dave Burnell, Transportation Security Administration), were followed by “Smithsonian Collections Space & Security” (Doug Hall & Bill Tompkins, both of the Smithsonian Institution).

On Wednesday, the conference concluded with panels by:

“International Committee on Museum Security” (Willem Hekman, Chairperson of the Board of the International Committee on Museum Security under ICOM and UNESCO).  The International Committee on Museum Security (ICMS) was established in 1974 under the International Council of Museums (ICOM).  ICMS has over 140 individual members in more than 30 countries and supports museum security staff worldwide with advice and assistance.

“Designing Effective Training Tools” (Getty staff)

“Google Art Project and Google Goggles” (Diana Skaar, a principal on Google's new business development team).  The Art Project is a collaboration between Google and some art museums worldwide to allow users to explore artworks at brushstroke level detail and take a virtual tour of a museum.

“Social Media: Benefits and Risks” (Captain Mike Parker, Los Angeles County Sheriffs Office).