Panel Discussion

Erasing history and the role of documentation in tracking and proving ownership of looted cultural property

“Murdering History” is the title of a rent article by James Harkin in Smithsonian Magazine. It focuses on the devastating cultural genocide being waged by ISIS and combatants in Syria’s civil war. The idea of erasing or “murdering” history by destroying cultural heritage or evidence of our past is not new. For decades thieves have been robbing archaeological sites, churches, museums, and private collections. While there are no exact figures, it is a criminal industry estimated in the billions annually. History sadly is erased when robbers disturb an area and destroy evidence about the origins of objects. Thieves may chop off a head, cut a portion of a mosaic out of the wall of a church, cut a painting out of its frame, store stolen items in places that could cause further damage, or keep the items hidden so that they are never seen again (e.g., the thirteen works of art taken in 1990 from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum).

Documentation about objects is an essential and key component to finding lost or stolen cultural property and in establishing ownership in a court of law. This panel will explore what kind of documentation is needed to track cultural property and establish ownership. It will look particularly at trafficking from Syria and Iraq and talk about the obstacles for managing trafficking as well as how to establishes bridges and open more communication across key agencies.

Panel Organizer and Moderator:

  • Eleanor E. Fink, manager and founder, American Art Collaborative Linked Open Data Initiative.
  • Françoise BORTOLOTTI, Criminal Intelligence Officer, Works of Art Unit, Interpol.
  • France Desmarais, Director of Programmes and Partnerships, International Council of Museums (ICOM).
  • Prof. Dr. Markus Hilgert, Direktor, Vorderasiatisches Museum im Pergamonmuseum Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz and Project Lead, ILLICID.
  • Thomas R. Kline, Counsel, Andrews Kurth LLP
  • Maria P. Kouroupas, Director Cultural Heritage Center, US Department of State.


Eleanor E. Fink
Art and Technology Advisor

Eleanor E. Fink is an international art and technology consultant and philanthropy advisor. She has held senior positions at the Smithsonian, J. Paul Getty Trust, and World Bank. Currently she manages the American Art Collaborative (AAC), a project comprised of 13 US museums interested in the benefits of Linked Open Data. The planning phase of the AAC is funded by the Andrew Mellon Foundation.

At the World Bank she served as the point person for relations with public and private foundations. During her tenure she established several international partnerships and helped launch a World Bank wide community foundation initiative that explores the concept of establishing indigenous foundations in developing countries. She also coordinated the establishment of the Development Gateway Foundation ( as a 501 c (3). The Foundation's core mission is to reduce poverty and support sustainable development through the use of information and communication technologies (ICT).

From 1986 to 1998 she was a program officer and then Director of the J. Paul Getty Trust's Information Institute (GII) where she led the development of information policies and standards needed to document, manage, and protect cultural property. The Getty Vocabularies are one of the products of her leadership. As Director, she positioned the Getty Information Institute around the concept of universal access to art and images and promoted the concept of "interworkability" within and across arts, humanities, and cultural heritage organizations.

She conceived and launched Object ID -- an internationally recognized information standard that helps protect and recover stolen art objects. Today, Object ID is used and endorsed by a wide group of organizations and agencies including the US State Department, US Military, UNESCO, ICOM, Interpol, and the Carabinieri. Also at the Getty, she established Los Angeles Culture Net --- a web based gateway to the arts across the greater Los Angeles area and American Strategy -a digital gateway to art collections across Federal agencies in Washington, DC.

Before joining the J. Paul Getty Trust, she was Chief of the Office of Research Support at the Smithsonian American Art Museum where she directed several research projects. She established SOS: Save Outdoor Sculpture, a highly successful national arts program that engages volunteers in recording historical and physical condition information about sculptures located in parks, towns, and cities throughout the United States.

France Desmarais

Director of Programmes and Partnerships, International Council of Museums (ICOM)

As the International Council of Museums’ (ICOM) Director of Programmes and Partnerships, since 2010, France Desmarais develops the institution's strategic partnerships and leads the organisation’s programmes department in all issues which concern it, specifically in the field of museum emergency preparedness and response, in ICOM's international fight against illicit traffic in cultural goods, as well as diverse tangible and intangible heritage related issues. Under her leadership and initiative, ICOM's Programmes Department created, in 2013, the International Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods (

In developing ICOM's programmes and actions to protect cultural heritage at risk, France works closely with different museums around the world, national governments and international organizations such as UNESCO, INTERPOL, UNODC, WCO, UNIDROIT. She is the permanent Secretary of ICOM's Disaster Relief Task Force for Museums and is administrator of the International Committee of the Blue Shield (ICBS).

Before joining ICOM, Ms. Desmarais had previously worked in museum management for over ten years, namely as Head of Strategic Initiatives for a museum in Montreal, Canada, where she is from. She also worked and lived in Central Africa and in the Middle East, teaching at the Faculty of Arts at the Lebanese University. France is now based in Paris, at ICOM's international headquarters.

Maria P. Kouroupas

Executive Director, Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation and Director Cultural Heritage Center, US Department of State

Maria P. Kouroupas is the executive director of the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation. She attended the University of Arkansas and the State College of Arkansas, receiving a Master’s Degree in History and Education. In 1977 she worked for the American Association of Museums in Washington D.C., and in 1984 she began at the United States Information Agency, where she became Deputy Director of the Cultural Preservation Advisory Committee. In 1993 she was named its director, and she also served as the executive director of the Committee before coming to The Cultural Heritage Center in that same capacity.


Seconded to INTERPOL (ICPO), General Secretariat (Lyon, France), Sub-Directorate “Drugs and Organized Crime”, Works of Art Unit –

1993 – 2001 : French Ministry of the Interior, Interior Intelligence Service, External Relations Department .

2001 – 2002 : French Ministry of the Interior, Interior Intelligence Service, Communications Department (contact with local and regional press sector, liaison with various press organizations, printers and others, collaboration with polling organizations).

2002 – Dec. 2004 : French Ministry of the Interior, General Directorate of the National Police, Office of European and International Affairs (preparation of multilateral meetings (G5 and G8) and Justice and Home Affairs councils of the European Union, monitoring of aspects of institutional and operational police cooperation within the European Union).

2005 – 2006 : Prefecture of Ajaccio, Cabinet of the Deputy Prefect for Security in Corsica, Office of Coordination and Analysis (production of daily bulletins and information reports about law enforcement activities and political, social and legal issues on the island, management of statistical databases dealing with terrorism and criminal matters).

2006 - Dec. 2008 : Embassy of France in Berlin (Germany), Deputy Police Attaché. 2010 - 2013: French Ministry of the Interior, Directorate of International Cooperation, Office of the Americas (8 months) and then Office of International Organizations (preparing for G8 Summit led by France, in particular the action plan aimed at strengthening transatlantic cooperation in the fight against drug trafficking (May 2011), monitoring of discussions and negotiations on security matters within international organizations (OSCE, ONUDC), specialized in monitoring progress in the Dublin Group (anti-drug efforts), coordinating and monitoring steps taken in West Africa as part of the informal Fontanot Group, monitoring of negotiations on European judicial directives conducted at the European level considering their impact on French police activity).