This event was presented today by the APPG in partnership with Walk of Truth, an independent non-profit organisation founded by Tasoula Georgiou Hadjitofi.

Walk of Truth raises public awareness of threats to cultural heritage from crime and war, and engages ordinary people in the struggle to protect and restore endangered monuments and artifacts.

Tasoula Hadjitofi, a refugee, presented four looted frescoes which have been rescued as a result of a Walk of Truth initiative to attract anonymous tips regarding the whereabouts of stolen cultural artifacts. Two of the frescoes date from the 12th century and were removed from one of the most important monasteries of the Byzantine period (the Monastery of Apsinthiotissa) located in the occupied area of Cyprus. Hadjitofi is appealing to global experts to assist Walk of Truth in identifying the other two stolen artifacts placed in its trust.

Speakers included:

Baroness Berridge Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief

Prof Dr Willy Bruggeman Chairman of the Belgian Federal Police Council, former Deputy Director of Europol
“Looted Art – New Kind of Blood Money” Reported in The Times, 17 December

Baron Serge Brammertz Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia
“Destruction of Cultural Heritage as a Weapon of War”

Professor Norman Palmer CBE QC visiting professor of Law at King’s College London and the University of Notre Dame in London
“What Law can and can’t do”

Tasoula Hadjitofi founder of Walk of Truth, former Honorary Consul of Cyprus in The Netherlands
“From Refugee to Guardian of Cultural Heritage”

Read Erasmus’ take on this story from the Economist

After the event, the organisers shared this summary of what had taken place:

The main theme of the presentation focused on the magnitude of the looting and destruction of cultural heritage that is taking place in areas of conflict like Syria and Iraq . Lady Berridge, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief, opened the presentations and spoke about how ISIS is funding its organization through the profits made through the illegal sale of stolen antiquities. She stressed the importance of protecting the human right of freedom of religion or belief, which is clearly being targeted by terrorist organisations such as ISIS and she thanked Baroness Brinton.

Tasoula Hadjitofi, a war refugee from Famagusta, Cyprus, spoke about the impact that the loss of cultural heritage has on human dignity, stressing that it must become the priority of every country to protect cultural heritage. The lack of cooperation and standardization of global laws combating art trafficking allows for these crimes against humanity to take place. Mrs. Hadjitofi
raised the point that although extremism, destruction and looting whether in Cyprus, Iraq, or Syria might take place far from us the buyers for these stolen antiquities were among us.

She further voiced that religious symbols are being used as commodities with no regard to their spiritual and emotional value and presented two twelfth-century frescoes that were recently repatriated and restored by her Walk of Truth organization. These religious symbols, looted from the Monastery of Aspinthiotissa (originally located in the occupied area of Cyprus), are just two
examples of the brutal war being waged against religious and cultural symbols in areas of conflict. She continued to stress that without respect for cultural and religious diversity there can be no possibility for peace and reconciliation.

Esteemed guest speaker, Dr. Willy Bruggeman, Chairman of the Belgian Federal Police Council, and former Deputy Director of Europol, discussed how profits generated from looted art have become a new source of funding for terrorist organizations who acquired between $4 and $6 billion dollars last year. He concluded that a workable international agreement between countries
to combat art trafficking along with the support and cooperation of the governmental, public and private sectors was needed in order to win the war against art traffickers.

Baron Serge Brammertz, a Belgian jurist and the prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, discussed the connection between the destruction of cultural heritage, cultural cleansing and genocide. He spoke of the limited resources available to investigators and the difficulties that exist in gaining access to countries in conflict to collect evidence of crimes committed. He stressed the importance of including the destruction of cultural and religious heritage into the International Criminal Tribunal’s investigative strategies.

Professor Norman Palmer, a barrister practicing in London and a visiting professor of law at King’s College, talked about what “law can and cannot do,” concluding that a sound legal approach complemented by diplomatic and other initiatives that support the reinstitution of unlawfully removed cultural treasures is much needed.

David Burrowes, MP, stated that because this area of illicit art trafficking was presented at the House of Lords under the banner of religious freedom, it made an important statement that this isn’t just an issue for those concerned about art, or those concerned about their particular country, which has been desecrated. It’s a matter of concern for each of us as well as a shared

The success of this symposium led to the possibility for a future collaborative event, a debate to be held at the United Nations in New York on the controversial issue of ownership of cultural heritage.