Illicit trafficking of cultural objects in Southeast Asia: from greed to protection efforts

Couverture Asie du Sud-Est 2021Étienne CLEMENT

The illicit trafficking in cultural objects is an ancient and global phenomenon. Accurate data on its importance in Southeast Asia is not available. However, observations show that the poverty still affecting several components of the population is leading to the sale of cultural objects from pagodas or archaeological sites to traffickers. They are ultimately sold on the international antiquities market or online. The Covid-19 pandemic is likely to aggravate the situation. Governments in the region prohibit the circulation of objects which are important for their national heritage and international organizations support them in training their staff. International Conventions addressing this traffic do exist but not all Southeast Asian countries have joined them. Regional organizations have recently expressed interest in the issue. Case studies focusing on Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand, which cover legislation, enforcement, trade and museums, provide an analysis of progress, obstacles and needs in this area.

Keywords: trafficking, cultural objects, illegal excavations, conventions, UNESCO