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Culture Ministers representing Group of 7 Industrialized Nations Discuss Threat of Cultural Trafficking

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Ancient destroyed artifacts are seen inside Mosul's heavily damaged museum. Most of the artifacts inside the building appeared to be completely destroyed. The basement level that was the museum's library had been burned, in Mosul, Iraq, VOA
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During their first-ever formal meeting, culture ministers representing Group of Seven industrialized nations on Thursday decried the looting and trafficking of cultural treasures by terror groups while experts acknowledged that objects believed looted by extremists are starting to surface in the marketplace.

The topic was on the table both during technical sessions by experts and law enforcement and during the afternoon meeting of G-7 cultural ministers and top officials. The gathering in Florence came a week after the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution co-authored by Italy and France warning that the destruction of cultural treasures may constitute war crimes.

Now, the discussion is turning not just to the destruction of cultural treasures, as seen in Syria and Afghanistan, but also to their trafficking as a source of funding to support the activities of extremist groups.

A man holds an ancient manuscript from Timbuktu that will need to be restored after being damaged by Islamic extremists in Bamako, Mali, Jan. 27, 2015.VOA

Heritage sites included

U.S. Ambassador Bruce Wharton, the acting undersecretary for public diplomacy, told reporters that the ministers discussed the grave risk posed by “looting and trafficking at the hands of terrorist organizations and criminal networks.”

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He cited the pillaging of heritage sites in Timbuktu in Mali, Palmyra in Syria and the Mosul museum in Iraq, which experts are just beginning to assess after 2 years being under control of Islamic State group extremists.

“Looting, trafficking and the illicit sale of cultural heritage objects have helped ISIS-Daesh finance its operations, along with trafficking in drugs, weapons, and people,” Wharton said.

German Minister of State Maria Boehmer said “terrorism feeds on illegal trafficking of cultural treasures” and applauded moves by the International Criminal Court to make “the targeted destruction of cultural property a war crime.”

“’The barbaric destruction by terrorist groups is targeting people’s identity,” she said.

A limestone male bust dated between the 2nd and the 3rd century A.D. that was damaged during the Islamic State occupation of the Syrian city of Palmyra, is shown during a press conference in Rome, Feb. 16, 2017. VOA

Details are few

U.S. Department of Homeland Security Deputy Assistant Director Ray Villanueva said developments in identifying artifacts looted by extremists “are very fresh … happening as we speak.” Villanueva said providing details, including of the countries of origin of looted objects, could compromise the ongoing investigations.

“However, I can tell you in general that [through the] internet [and] art dealers we are seeing artifacts coming up from different places,” Villanueva said, adding that the public, museums and art dealers were key to providing law enforcement with information.

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Milan lawyer Manlio Frigo, who represents museums and art dealers, acknowledged that not all the trafficking in war zones was at the hands of extremists. Refugees crossing the border from Syria have been seen with plastic bags containing artifacts, Frigo said.

Looting for profit

Director-General Irina Bokova of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization said there is plenty of evidence that extremists are looting for profit.

A group of partners that includes Interpol and the world customs organization are creating a common database and sharing information in a bid to recover the treasures, Bokova said.

“Every single day something happens somewhere that testifies to the fact that it is systematic, I would say, looting of sites to engage with the illicit trafficking,” she said. (VOA)

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Advanced Technology Required To Tackle Online Sex Trade and Trafficking: Analysts

At least 40 million people are victims of modern slavery worldwide.

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Trafficking
People opposed to child sex trafficking rally in Washington. VOA

The online sale of sex slaves is going strong despite new U.S. laws to clamp down on the crime, data analysts said Wednesday, urging a wider use of technology to fight human trafficking.

In April, the United States passed legislation aimed at making it easier to prosecute social media platforms and websites that facilitate sex trafficking, days after a crackdown on classified ad giant Backpage.com.

The law resulted in an immediate and sharp drop in sex ads online but numbers have since picked up again, data presented at the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s annual Trust Conference showed.

“The market has been destabilized and there are now new entrants that are willing to take the risk in order to make money,” Chris White, a researcher at tech giant Microsoft who gathered the data, told the event in London.

Google, Web summit, sexual misconduct, trafficking
Google employees fill Harry Bridges Plaza in front of the Ferry Building during a walkout, Nov. 1, 2018, in San Francisco. Hundreds of Google employees around the world briefly walked off the job in a protest against what they said is the tech company’s mishandling of sexual misconduct allegations against executives. VOA

New players

Backpage.com, a massive advertising site primarily used to sell sex — which some analysts believe accounted for 80 percent of online sex trafficking in the United States — was shut down by federal authorities in April.

Days later, the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), which introduced stiff prison sentences and fines for website owners and operators found guilty of contributing to sex trafficking, was passed into law.

The combined action caused the number of online sex ads to fall 80 percent to about 20,000 a day nationwide, White said.

The number of ads has since risen to about 60,000 a day, as new websites filled the gap, he said.

In October — in response to a lawsuit accusing it of not doing enough to protect users from human traffickers — social media giant Facebook said it worked internally and externally to thwart such predators.

 

Trafficking
This April 6, 2018, file photo shows a screenshot of Backpage.com on the day that federal authorities seized the classified site as part of a criminal case. VOA

 

Using technology to continuously monitor and analyze this kind of data is key to evaluating existing laws and designing new and more effective ones, White said.

“It really highlights what’s possible through policy,” added Valiant Richey, a former U.S. prosecutor who now fights human trafficking at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), echoing the calls for new methods.

Law enforcement agencies currently tackle slavery one case at a time, but the approach lacks as the crime is too widespread and authorities are short of resources, he said.

As a prosecutor in Seattle, Richey said his office would work on up to 80 cases a year, while online searches revealed more than 100 websites where sex was sold in the area, some carrying an average of 35,000 ads every month.

Also Read: Sexual Misconduct Cases Will Be Handled Better: Google

“We were fighting forest fire with a garden hose,” he said. “A case-based response to human trafficking will not on its own carry the day.”

At least 40 million people are victims of modern slavery worldwide — with nearly 25 million trapped in forced labor and about 15 million in forced marriages. (VOA)