Cultural policy

Louvre's director draws up 50-point plan in response to Isil's destruction

Jean-Luc Martinez calls for safe havens for antiquities, European centre to combat smuggling and reconstruction fund

The director of the Louvre, Jean-Luc Martinez, has drawn up a 50-point plan for protecting heritage in areas of conflict. The report, which was published on 17 November, was commissioned by the French President, Francois Hollande, in June after Islamist extremists (so-called Islamic State or Isil)  destroyed a number of buildings at the ancient site of Palmyra in Syria. The recommendations may be “adopted at a national or European level or implemented by Unesco or the United Nations”, Martinez says.

After the terrorist attacks in Paris last week, President Hollande told a Unesco conference on 17 November that France should offer "asylum" and safe havens to artefacts under threat from Isil. This proposal, to be ratified by the French Parliament, is a cornerstone of Martinez’s report.

Martinez also suggests establishing an endowment fund dedicated to the preservation of world heritage. This fund could “finance re-construction work at Palmyra or undertake research at the Mari archaeological site [in Syria]”, he says.

The Louvre director also proposed establishing a single European database of seized or stolen cultural property stolen, along with a European Monitoring Centre to combat the illegal trafficking of cultural goods within the European Union."It is usually said that [smuggling antiquities] represents 20% of Isil's funding but it is impossible to give a figure," Martinez says. 

He recommends increased training for Iraqi and Syrian heritage professionals. Last month the UK government backed a British Museum led initiative to train heritage professionals from Iraq in emergency archeaology so teams can move in as soon sites are made safe.

He also said that a memorial is proposed for the Tuileries Gardens in Paris to commemorate “guardians of heritage”, such as the archaeologist Khaled al-Assaad who was murdered in August by Isil after he refused to reveal where antiquities had been removed to for safekeeping. "The French Ministry of Culture must approve this project," says a spokeswoman for the Louvre.

Earlier this year, the New York-based Association of Art Museum Directors, the international group that represents museum chiefs in the US, Canada and Mexico, issued a set of guidelines for safeguarding objects at risk of being damaged or looted. Under the new protocols, institutions under threat can request that member museums house the endangered works.