Review Cultural Property Crime

AP: Online Journal in Public Archaeology Volume 5 - 2015 p. 203



Cultural Property Crime:

An Overview and Analysis of Contemporary Perspectives and Trends.

[Joris D. Kila and Marc Balcells (Eds.)]

Brill ISBN: 978-9-00428-053-3  380 pages, 2015

Over the last twenty-five years, archaeological publishing has been enriched with books on archaeological looting, the illicit trafficking of archaeological objects and other forms of Art Crime. Today we are lucky to have access to a wide range of publications on the subject, including the collection Heritage and Identity: Issues in Cultural Heritage Protection published by Brill. This collection has shot to the top of the essential reading list, even though only the first three volumes have been published. It is important to highlight the work of the editors, Joris D. Kila and A. Zeidler, whose excellent choice of titles should be recognised. The first two volumes, written and coedited by Professor Kila, were dedicated to the protection of cultural heritage in times of war, or when affected by violent social conflict. However, the third volume broadens the scope to cover different types of art-related crime, while still including situations of war where the lack of state stewardship or legal owners favours looting, theft and illicit trafficking, and even the iniquitous destruction of cultural heritage, as Kila himself reminds us in his contribution to the book.  Joris D. Kila coedited this third volume, Cultural Property Crime, with Marc Balcells, a Spanish criminologist known for his work on culture-related white-collar crime. His contributions to the book give us a fascinating insight into the subject.

This collaboration was the fruit of Balcells’ earlier contribution to Cultural Heritage in the Crosshairs, edited by Kila and Zeidler. While some years ago archaeological looting and the illicit trafficking of archaeological objects were issues principally dealt with by British and American authors, the international arena has now become more cosmopolitan, breaking with this monopoly. The series Heritage and Identity: Issues in Cultural Heritage Protection is a magnificent example of this. The book is divided into seven sections of contributions: Art Theft, The Relationship between Cultural Heritage Crimes and Organized Crime; Fakes and Forgeries; Art and White-Collar Crime; Armed Conflicts and Cultural Property; Archaeological Looting; and Art Vandalism. It is impossible to provide a brief review of all the contributions made, but we can say they correspond to a variety of fields such as archaeology, art history, anthropology, criminology, and journalism.

The contributions related to investigative journalism are particularly interesting in so far, as they refer to criminal cases, something to which we are not so accustomed in the archaeological field.

Overall, the book provides a kaleidoscopic vision of what we know as Art Crime, offering a balanced combination of theory and practice, using both current and historic cases.  Both the theory and the analysis of practical cases highlight the inadequacy of national and international legal frameworks for combatting a plague that is becoming inextricably linked to other forms of organised crime and phenomena, such as the manufacture of replicas; now a lucrative national industry in far-eastern countries such as China.

The book shines a spotlight on the problems and provides possible solutions, although stopping these gaps will not prevent the appearance of new forms of criminal activity that affect cultural heritage.

Cultural heritage is one of the most valuable legacies we have to leave for future generations. However, such value always implies a degree of avarice, of contempt for others by those who feel superior, of racial and cultural hatred, of the desire for financial gain by exploiting something unique by making reproductions of the original, of the unhealthy desire to gain notoriety by damaging cultural goods. All these passions are the dark side, the underbelly that, like a curse, is always linked to things that produce aesthetic pleasure and give us a better understanding of who we are.

This book has given us a new insight into the thinking of those who use their intellectual and professional capacity to try to keep the dark side at bay. Like the previous volumes, this new book is essential reading. We shall await the new volumes of the Heritage and Identity: Issues in Cultural Heritage Protection series with bated breath.

AP: Online Journal in Public Archaeology

Editors: Jaime Almansa Sánchez & Elena Papagiannopoulou


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Review Cultural Heritage in the Crosshairs

AP: Online Journal in Public Archaeology Volume 4 - 2014 p. 143


Cultural Heritage in the Crosshairs, Protecting Cultural Property during Conflict

[Joris D. Kila and James A. Zeidler (Eds.)]


ISBN: 9789004251427


Think what’s happened in our cities when we’ve had riots, and problems, and looting. Stuff happens! But in terms of what’s going on in that country, it is a fundamental misunderstanding to see those images over, and over, and over again of some boy walking out with a vase and say, ‘Oh, my goodness, you didn’t have a plan.’ That’s nonsense. They know what they’re doing, and they’redoing a terrific job. And it’s untidy, and freedom’s untidy,and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. They’re also free to live their lives and do wonderful things, and that’s what’s going to happen here (DoD briefing release, 4/11/03, emphasis added). (Kila and Zeidler, pp. 360).

After reading a quite complacent press release, U.S. Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld had to face some questions about the looting of the Iraq National Museum in Baghdad that televisions were broadcasting worldwide in April 2003. Although he tried to downplay the seriousness of the facts, he could not put out the fire caused by the lack of interest in avoiding the damage of cultural institutions, after the capture of Baghdad by U.S. troops. The image of the U.S. around the world was mortally wounded and no laughing or dismissive remark by Rumsfeld or any other representative of the Department of Defense in the press room would restore it.

These actions and events triggered a negative reaction all over the world, not only in those countries deemed responsible for allowing such looting to happen, but in the cultural preservation community (composed of archaeologists and other cultural heritage specialists). One of the main outcomes from this process has been the publication of dozens of books and papers discussing issues about protecting cultural property in conflicts.

The book edited by Joris D. Kila and James A. Zeidler follows this track. Both Kila and Zeidler have an outstanding background in Cultural Property Protection (CPP) in armed conflicts issues. The former has undertaken several assessments on cultural heritage missions under different international organizations’ umbrellas in countries such as Iraq, Libya, Egypt, and Mali; and the latter has a long history of training U.S. troops in CPP.

Having overcome debates focused primarily on discussing ethical issues related to whether archaeologists were right to collaborate with the military, CPP practitioners have put their all into developing the military’s capabilities in dealing with cultural properties. CPP has a predominantly case study-based methodology, as is common in recent research fields, and this volume is an example of that methodology. In its first chapter, the book is devoted to discussing the different approaches to CPP in the military, and the rest of the chapters show cases of CPP training, CPP military planning, and historical perspectives on CPP.

I believe that there is an underlying debate about CPP that is not explained in the book, but this is worth pointing out because it can explain some of the underpinning topics surrounding CPP.

CPP practices are based on the ius in bello, especially with the rule that has to do with discrimination between combatants and non-combatants. This is one of the Just War Theory principles; those precepts demand that wars are fought according to the moral standards usually accepted by the international community, even if the enemies do not share these values. But international law depends on wide acceptance and adherence by members of the global community for it to be efficient and effective. That is one point, while some national military forces already strive to prevent damage to cultural property during armed conflicts, not all actors show the same restrictions. Indeed, as Kila exposes in his chapter, cultural resources have come to constitute a target for belligerents.

The case pointed out by Kila about Mali and the ‘Ansār ad-Dīn group represents an outstanding example. It seems that a revolutionary transformation of warfare has taken place in some countries. And now there is a division between international law abiding and non-international-law-abiding countries. If we accept this, it not only could explain why all the cases recorded in CPP publications are presented by more or less the same countries, but it would put the geopolitical limits of the reach of the requirements for protecting cultural heritage in conflict too. Going beyond this limit seems to be almost impossible.

However, despite the supposed revolution of moral concern, in the reality of war such proper conduct seems to be lacking. Even liberal and developed states are more focused on war damages committed against their own cultural property than those committed by them.

Modern wars, characterized by being dés-étatisée and démilitarisée, are so different from principles of wars in the past. Yet one of the past principles remains inalterable: that war is fueled by emotion, which always becomes a hatred for the foe (as described by Carl von Clausewitz, 1780-1831). Hate produces atrocities from both sides in a reciprocal upward spiral. This means that wars are dé-civilisée and, by their basic nature, drive onwards to extremes. So, once the dogs of war have been released, doubts concerning the effectiveness of the training received by the military in CPP can arise, as countries involved in armed conflicts are resistant to moral evaluations. But there is a growing optimism among cosmopolitan people toward the transformations of international relations based on human rights, so that meeting moral standards is a demand for developed countries in armed conflicts. It embraces CPP as well. From the maelstrom of images generated by the invasion of Iraq, among the most disturbing were those of the damage to archaeological sites and cultural institutions. Probably more so than those scenes of coalition forces vainly searching for weapons of mass destruction.

Why? Perhaps not only because we are more familiar with human suffering than cultural looting, but because the U.S. troops were the forces responsible for creating a situation in Iraq that allowed for easier access of looting and impacting cultural material. The army, being responsible for such damages, is an important issue in the public response. For example, what is happening to great monuments in Syria, reported daily from the ground by journalists and cultural heritage specialists, does not have the same effect on the audience as it does in Iraq. I think that the main reason for the difference in the real political impact of those sets of images lies in a subconscious perception: people expect armies of developed and liberal countries to behave according to the internationally accepted outstanding code of conduct. Although the U.S. Government tried to justify their failure to react to stopping the looting of Iraq’s cultural institutions, they noticed the disastrous damage caused and did what could be done to correct the negative image they were projecting. Thus, due to the importance of public opinion in forcing states to follow moral codes, a chapter devoted to this topic in the book edited by Kila and Zeidler would be a welcome addition. By the same token, it must be stressed that military training in CPP should not only be focused on giving abilities to the troops to deal with cultural property, but on moral behaviour and ethics as well, as many of the chapters are about experiences on how to integrate CPP training packages into pre-existing elements of cultural awareness when training military personnel.

It is difficult to make successful appeals to the military to start implementing the Hague 1954 Convention, but there is probably a better chance of it when armies are deployed in peace support operations than when they are involved in combat. The creation of international cultural emergency assessment teams (not necessarily military or militarized, I think), as claimed by Kila, should be seriously undertaken by international agencies. They could be an important tool to inform the public opinion on what is happening to the cultural property during conflicts, and force the parties to agree on some restrictions. To do so, those teams should be regarded as impartial, and that is why I disagree with the proposed militarized character. The book is full of goodwill suggestions and valuable experiences but it shows the present gap existing between goodwill and the real world, and that there is no quick answer to match all the challenges and threats that CPP in armed conflicts must face in the next few years.

Review Heritage under Siege


Online Journal in Public Archaeology

Volume 3 - 2013 p. 139-142




Conjunto Arqueológico de Carmona

 Heritage Under Siege. Military Implementation of Cultural Protection Following the 1954 Hague Convention [Joris D. Kila]


ISBN: 978-90042156-8-9

318 pages

The destruction of works of art and antiquities as a result of armed conflicts has always been present throughout history. For a long time it has also been seen as a reward of the winning side. From the nineteenth century, the concept of cultural heritage has become something socially rooted; the devastating effects of wars on cultural heritage will try to be mitigated. The protection of the Prado Museum treasures during the Spanish Civil War, followed later by the actions of a military unit called

«Monuments Men» during the Second World War, is a manifestation of this change in attitude in the first half of the twentieth century. This concern about the conservation of cultural heritage in wars will reach its peak in the Unesco Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflicts, signed at The Hague in 1954.

This convention based its recommendations on past war experiences that were already obsolete when signed. The characteristic air raids of the Second World War had given way to the nuclear threat of the Cold War. The fall of the Berlin Wall and bloc politics paved the way for other military confrontations where the ghost of a nuclear planetary holocaust was replaced by the crude reality of genocidal extermination of the enemies.

Ignacio RODRIGUEZ TEMIÑO - Review: Heritage under siege - 140


The bloody dismemberment of Eastern Europe, with the Bosnian war in the background, and later on the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and the civil wars in Libya, Syria and Mali, are the best-known episodes of armed conflict at local level, in which the ethnic or religious components have had a transcendent weigh in its genesis, or have served to mask underlying political and economic interests. 

In this new scenario, military confrontation does not seek to subdue the enemy, but its moral and physical elimination. The goal is to erase any trace of his memory, including the material remains that identify him or serve to keep his memory alive. 

This deliberate pursuit of total genocide shall be added to the effects of collateral damage, as well as the opportunity offered by the war chaos to increase the plunder and theft of antiquities and works of art destined for the markets of developed countries. 

The 1954 Hague Convention sought to adapt to these post- Cold War threats on cultural heritage in wartime through the Second Protocol, signed in 1999. However, there has been little interest in the international community to follow the rules and recommendations of this Second Protocol. 

The so-called ‘Arab Spring’ has added new threat scenarios for cultural heritage, as riots and popular uprisings are used by some groups to plunder and damage cultural property, as happened in Egypt, according to Kila. 

In accordance with this brief description of conflict, the role of the armies has also undergone some changes. In many cases, the armed forces involved in the field are not combatants, but carry out humanitarian missions or peacekeeping, under the umbrella of the United Nations or other international organizations. 

Among experts there is great concern about the relationship between the military and cultural property. Concern that has had its epicenter in the destruction of cultural centers and archaeological sites, and the looting of antiquities that accompanied the invasion of Iraq by a multinational contingent of troops led by the United States and the United Kingdom in 2003. This issue has led to a broad international debate through forums, journals and books. In this respect, the position taken by the World Archaeological Congress (WAC is a non-governmental, not-for-profit

Ignacio RODRIGUEZ TEMIÑO - Review: Heritage under siege - 141

organization, and is the only elected international body of practicing archaeologists as well as one that places particular emphasis on archaeological ethics) before a possible invasion of Iran in 2008 or the recent episode in Mali, calling on the parties in conflict to avoid war and seek other, nonviolent ways of resolving problems, should be highlighted (“The view here is that providing advice and expertise to the military during the war planning against Iran would offer cultural credibility and respectability to the military action”, said Professor Claire Smith, President of the WAC at that time). During the WAC-7, met in Amman in February 2013, a draft of a Declaration on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict has been submitted to the Assembly for consideration, in order to enhance compliance with the observations of the 1954 Hague Convention. The book by Joris D. Kila falls squarely in the heart of this international debate from a perspective based on personal experiences, but no less complete and comprehensive. The book is divided into three parts: a preface, four chapters, which include a number of case studies, and appendices with documents relating to the protection of cultural property during armed conflict. An important part of this book is devoted to describing the main issues relating to the protection of cultural heritage in conflict areas or during popular riots, offering each of them a useful set of key concepts which not only establish definitions but also provide an accurate picture of the theoretical and practical complexity embedded in them. These theoretical considerations are illustrated through several case studies in which the author has been involved or known from the bibliography.

The key idea, present throughout the book, is to increase the interest and ability of armies to protect cultural heritage in order to prevent further episodes of destruction and pillage like the one in Iraq during the occupation of 2003. Kila summarizes the total lack of sensitivity to the protection of cultural heritage with Donald Rumsfeld’s response to widespread looting in Baghdad: “Stuff happens”. To improve these capabilities, it is necessary not only to raise awareness of the importance of cultural heritage, but also to promote specific training, field work in which the author has worked in recent years. 

For Kila there is a responsibility for archaeologists and other cultural heritage specialists to attempt to mitigate the damage done to cultural heritage wherever there is conflict, as this cultural heritage could be an essential building block of the aftermath reconstruction process.


Ignacio RODRIGUEZ TEMIÑO - Review: Heritage under siege - 142


However, in practice, military commanders are often not very convinced about the need to implement the capability of the armed forces in the protection of cultural property, neither in theatre nor during previous training. Awareness of the implications of the Hague Convention of 1954 should be considered a key aspect of military preparedness to undertake the necessary transformation of the armies’ mentality that must shift from justifying or consenting to the cultural plunder to participating actively in its preservation. This low priority over the protection of cultural property is the main cause of the destruction occurred in recent times and that could be prevented, according to the author, if the proper training had been provided. 

It is surprising that Kila criticizes international agencies, mainly the UNESCO. Kila complains about not only its politicization, but also its slow response to specific crises, such as the recent ones in Egypt, Libya, or Syria. This criticism reflects the tension between agencies already established, such as UNESCO, with broad interests in education and culture, and new ones, more specifically devoted to the central theme of the book: the protection of cultural property during armed conflict, such as Blue Shield or the International Military Cultural Resources Working Group (IMCuRWG), of which Kila himself is Chairman. 

In this regard, it should be noted that the book has a strong personal component. This is not the place to highlight the achievements of UNESCO in the field of cultural heritage protection, but its support and endorsement in any of the areas that are subject to statutory interest is a guarantee, essential to make a success of any initiative or project. The difference between the results of Kila’s expedition during the Egyptian revolution and those from the subsequent visit of representatives of UNESCO is a clear example of the importance of this United Nations body in the international arena. This does not mean that there can be an agreement with Kila on the need to streamline the administrative bureaucracy of UNESCO and wean the organization off its political interests. But nothing and no one guarantees that other agencies, such as those mentioned above, are exempt from the same political interests, taking also into account that their work is more opaque than that of UNESCO or openly pro-military, as MCuRWG. 

Ultimately, this work by Joris D. Kila is undoubtedly interesting because of its stimulating and enlightening content, even if not fully agreeing with its principles.

AP: Online Journal in Public Archaeology

Editor: Jaime Almansa Sánchez


Assistant editor: Elena Papagiannopoulou

Edited by: JAS Arqueología S.L.U.



Address: Plaza de Mondariz, 6, 28029 - Madrid (Spain)

Cover Image: Noche en el templo de Debod (J. Almansa)

Copyright © 2013 JAS Arqueología S.L.U. (edition) & Authors (content) ISSN: 2171-6315


Rodriguez  Temiño,  I.  2013.  Review:  Heritage  under  siege.  Military implementation of cultural protection following 1954 Hague Convention. AP Journal Vol. 3, 139-142.

AP Journal is a peer-reviewed journal devoted exclusively to Public Archaeology. It is freely distributed online on the Website: