Global Heritage Fund: The United States and Libya combat cultural looting

Statement from Stefaan Poortman on the United States and Libya Memorandum of Understanding

Discussions of historical conservation often focus on a handful of famous and important sites. The charisma of the Colosseum, Great Wall of China, or Petra frequently captures the public imagination, eclipsing sites equally worthy of our attention.

The warp and weft of our history are not built on the great and the visible alone. From local temples to underserved communities to entire regions of the world, we must recognize the importance of these lesser-known places as threads in the vast fabric of human civilization.

At Global Heritage Fund, we are working to do just that.

Libya provides a perfect example. In the words of prominent US Department of State official Steve Goldstein, “Libya has served as a crossroads of multiple civilizations, each of which has left its mark on the country and our world history.” Blessed with a truly astounding archaeological and historical patrimony, Libya has much to offer the world. And yet, the international community has neglected to include it in discussions of cultural loss, response, and recovery.

Libya’s exceptional history and cultural legacy face grave dangers. For years, irreplaceable heritage artifacts have been stolen, smuggled abroad, and sold on the antiquities black market. The proceeds of these illicit sales have funded international terrorism, incentivizing the continued pillaging of Libyan history. Exceptional places of culture and history lie in ruins, severing the ties that bind the Libyan people with their past.

Given these dangers, I am delighted to share with you the heartening news that Libya and the United States have signed a memorandum of understanding to combat the looting of Libya’s culture. The agreement solidifies emergency measures taken in December 2017 to protect Libya’s cultural property and is one of seventeen that the United States has enacted with various countries.

This agreement is the first meaningful measure in some time to prevent the illegal smuggling of cultural artifacts from Libya. More importantly, it underscores the principle that culture unites people. With the signing of this agreement, the United States and Libya have built a bridge of understanding, overcoming the forces of discord that threaten to divide our world – and rend the fabric of our shared history.

The United States and Libya have affirmed their commitment to keeping Libyans connected to their unique heritage.

They have recognized that cultural objects benefit from protection by and for the people in their countries of origin.

They have shown that the international community still has the capacity for taking substantive measures to combat the threat of global antiquities smuggling.

These principals motivate our work here at Global Heritage Fund, and I know that, as a supporter of this crucial work, cultural protection matters to you, too. I am proud to witness this important progress and to share the important news with our community of heritage supporters — including you! Thank you for your support as we continue to protect heritage throughout the world.

Warmest regards,

Stefaan Poortman
Chief Executive Officer
Global Heritage Fund

P.S. At Global Heritage Fund, we strive to be responsive to the concerns of our friends and supporters. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please do not hesitate to reach out to me personally at!

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