Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Tess Davis Named Executive Director of the Antiquities Coalition

Davis has worked on-the-ground in Cambodia since 2003 
The Antiquities Coalition today named Tess Davis as its Executive Director. The lawyer and trained archaeologist will oversee the organization’s work to fight cultural racketeering: the illicit trade in art and antiquities by terrorists and criminals. Davis will also manage the day-to-day operations of the institute’s staff in Washington, DC and New York, and programs in the Middle East and Asia.

“We are fortunate to have someone with such talent and experience leading our efforts to fight antiquities looting and trafficking, especially given ISIS’s recent destruction of temples, monuments, and antiquities as a tool for cultural cleansing. The global community has no greater ally in combating cultural racketeering than Tess Davis,” said Deborah Lehr, Chairman and Co-Founder of the Antiquities Coalition. 

Davis comes to the Antiquities Coalition after a three-year campaign to help the Royal Government of Cambodia recover a stolen Khmer masterpiece from a prominent auction house. The thousand-year-old statue had been on the block for $3 million dollars, when Cambodia revealed that it had been plundered by paramilitary forces during the country’s bloody civil war with the Khmer Rouge. The auction house refused to return the piece, leading to two years of heated litigation. Thanks in part to Davis’s efforts — and most importantly the hard work of the Cambodian and United States governments — the statue was successfully repatriated in 2014. Davis played a “critical” role in its recovery, in work that was featured by The New York Times.

Davis speaking at the National Trust for Historic Preservation
“I am honored that the Antiquities Coalition has chosen me as its first executive director,” Davis said. “From Cambodia, to Iraq and Syria, to the United States, we are facing a crisis. Cultural racketeering is not just destroying our past, it is threatening our future by funding crime and conflict around the world. The Antiquities Coalition — and the diverse group of leaders it has assembled — is dedicated to stopping this threat to both our cultural heritage and global security. I am very grateful for this opportunity to support them.”

Davis joins the Washington-based nonprofit after devoting the last decade to fighting the illicit antiquities trade: first in the field as an archaeologist, and then by conducting ground-breaking legal and scholarly research for leading academic institutions. She has been a consultant for the Cambodian and U.S. federal governments, and works with both the art world and law enforcement to keep looted antiquities off the market. She is affiliated with the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research at the University of Glasgow.

Davis frequently writes and speaks on the issue of cultural racketeering. Her work has appeared in TheLos Angeles Times, The New York Times, CNN, The Cambodia Daily and multiple scholarly publications. She also contributes to both The Conversation and The Huffington Post.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

For Immediate Release: Forum on Terrorist Financing to Address Illicit Sales of Antiquities in U.S. and Internationally

Thursday, September 24, 2015
8:30-11:30 AM
Asia Society, 725 Park Ave, New York, NY

The Antiquities Coalition, the Middle East Institute, Asia Society, and UNESCO will cohost a high level forum in New York City on September 24 to seek solutions in the fight against antiquities looting and terrorist financing.

ISIS blows up al-Qubba Husseniya Mosque
in Iraq as part of its campaign of cultural cleansing.
This forum, Culture Under Threat: The Security, Economic and Cultural Impact of Antiquities Trafficking and Terrorist Financing, will bring together leading government officials and thinkers to discuss concrete policy options in the fight to save our shared history.

The forum will build upon the accomplishments of the May 2015 Cairo Conference, which brought together high level officials from ten Middle Eastern countries. Together, they signed the Cairo Declaration, a regional strategy to fight the looting and destruction of artifacts by ISIS and other terrorist groups.

 “To win this fight requires political will at the highest levels of government,” said Deborah Lehr, founder and chairman of the Antiquities Coalition. “Our goal is to bring together this diverse group of leading thinkers to seek solutions to the global problem of cultural racketeering that threatens our common past.”

Examples of looted antiquities that are now
vanishing into ISIS' black market trade.
UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, who has condemned cultural destruction and racketeering as a “war crime,” will deliver the keynote. Other participants include Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Deputy Prime Minister of Jordan Nasser Judeh, Cambodian Secretary of State Chuch Phoeurn, and Ahmed Abdulkariem, Chairman of the Libya Department of Antiquities. The involvement of top leaders from government, law enforcement, the museum world, auction houses, the corporate community, and the not-for-profit sector is an indication of the international momentum building in this fight. 

“Antiquities trafficking is a threat to international security as well as the heritage of the people of the region," said Wendy Chamberlin, president of The Middle East Institute.  "This should be a high priority for policymakers working to counter violent extremism and alleviate the humanitarian crises engulfing the Middle East.”

For further information about this event, contact