Innovative legal measures to secure the fate of artworks and artefacts in the Middle East were announced by French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday (17th November),  Le Point magazine reports.

Speaking at the 70th General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris, President Hollande unveiled plans to crack down on illicit trafficking by ISIS.

Militants have engaged in large-scale destruction of heritage sites in Syria and Iraq. Concerns over the fate of Middle Eastern artefacts and antiquities reached new levels in August when ISIS blew up the ancient Temple of Baalshamin in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Palmyra.

Now there are fears that militants are selling looted cultural goods on the global black market, some of which may find their way into Europe. To derail the illicit trade, President Hollande announced that the French Parliament would consider a new law introducing a ‘right to asylum’ for works of art in danger of damage or destruction in the Middle East.

“The right to asylum applies to people… but asylum also applies to works, world heritage”, President Hollande said.

The French Government is also set to introduce customs checks on the importation of cultural goods and incorporate UN Security Council Resolutions banning the import, transit and trade of illegally exported heritage objects.

President Hollande’s speech comes in the wake of a recent publication issued by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), which invites international museums whose holdings are under threat to transfer them to any AAMD member for temporary safekeeping.

Such initiatives may do little to alleviate concerns over the complex threat to Middle Eastern cultural heritage. For while ISIS is said to be responsible for a quarter of recorded lootings in Syria, a study published in September in the Near Eastern Archaeology Journal suggests the wartime activities of the Assad regime and US-backed opposition forces have resulted in extensive damage to heritage sites.