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In 2015, the world watched in horror as ISIS militants seized and then proceeded to destroy the ancient Syrian site of Palmyra. These cultural heritage crimes did not stop with the destruction of symbolic and historical structures. ISIS soon engaged in vast looting of antiquities, which helps line the group’s coffers. In response, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2199 condemning the destruction of cultural property in Iraq and Syria, specifically noting the role that cultural looting plays in terrorist financing. Recognizing that commercial demand for antiquities is the main driver for cultural looting, the UN called upon all nations to stem the illicit trade of antiquities being removed from these countries.
Unfortunately, here in the United States, as in other countries from which the demand stems for ill-gotten antiquities, there is a lack of legislation effectively curtailing this illicit trade. Not hindered by current international and domestic legal frameworks to protect cultural property, contemporary looting continues to occur on a large scale and is exacerbated by the growing interconnectedness of the global economy. The internet further allows antiquities of minor commercial value that would have gone unnoticed by museums and auction houses to be purchased by more casual consumers.