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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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A security clearance allows a person access to classified national security information or restricted areas.

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Former CIA Director John O. Brennan speaks at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, March 11, 2014. President Donald Trump revoked Brennan's security clearance Wednesday. VOA
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A security clearance allows a person access to classified national security information or restricted areas after completion of a background check. The clearance by itself does not guarantee unlimited access. The agency seeking the clearance must determine what specific area of information the person needs to access.

What are the different levels of security clearance?

There are three levels: Confidential, secret and top secret. Security clearances don’t expire. But, top secret clearances are reinvestigated every five years, secret clearances every 10 years and confidential clearances every 15 years.

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Why does one need a security clearance in retirement?

Retired senior intelligence officials and military officers need their security clearances in case they are called to consult on sensitive issues.

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Can the president revoke a security clearance?

Apparently. But there is no precedent for a president revoking someone’s security clearance. A security clearance is usually revoked by the agency that sought it for an employee or contractor. All federal agencies follow a list of 13 potential justifications for revoking or denying a clearance, which can include criminal acts, lack of allegiance to the United States, behavior or situation that could compromise an individual and security violations. (VOA)