Note on Islamic State antiquities profits

Louis Vignes, Temple of Baalshamin, Palmyra, Syria (1864)
Louis Vignes, Temple of Baalshamin, Palmyra, Syria (1864)

Hannah Willett, a JD candidate at the University of Arizona has published a student note examining what U.S. criminal penalties could be used to prosecute the market end of antiquities which may pass through the Islamic State. Though many student notes can suffer from not having a full understanding of the scholarship examining illicit cultural heritage, this piece rises above the typical student note; perhaps owing to the fact that Ms. Willett undertook study at the Tulane-Siena summer program.

From the abstract:

The illicit antiquities market is a thriving international enterprise that has the potential to fuel wide-scale criminal and terrorist activity. Nonetheless, the economic and symbolic impact of cultural property exploitation has been largely overlooked.

This Note explores the role that the illegal antiquities market can and does play in facilitating terrorist activities, particularly in ISIS-controlled areas of the Middle East. It addresses the regulatory obstacles uniquely inherent to the trade of cultural property, and examines international, national, and online intermediary responses to looting and the market.

Finally, this Note proposes a multi-faceted, counteractive response to the trade. First, the Note highlights the potential for online intermediaries to serve as powerful choke points. It then draws attention to the undertheorized and underutilized mechanisms of U.S. domestic law that are readily employable to combat the illicit trade. Lastly, this Note emphasizes the important function that education can have in reducing consumer demand, and consequently, in disincentivizing participation at every step along the trade.

  1. Hannah D. Willett, Ill-Gotten Gains: A Response to the Islamic State’s Profits from the Illicit Antiquities Market, 58 Ariz. L. Rev. 831 (2016).

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