NICOSIA - Six countries on Friday signed a Council of Europe convention which criminalises the illegal trade in "blood antiquities" that can be used to finance terrorism, officials said.
The initiative, which was launched at a CoE ministerial meeting in Nicosia, comes after jihadists in war-torn Syria and Iraq have looted and sold ancient artifacts to fund their rule.
"Today, the international community takes a crucial leap forward in the protection of our cultural heritage, especially in the efforts to combat the trade in blood antiquities by trans-national organised crime and terrorist networks," said Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides.
He said it was the only international treaty that deals specifically with the criminalisation of the illicit trafficking of cultural property.
The Nicosia Convention outlaws unlawful excavation, the importation and exportation of stolen antiquities, and their illegal acquisition.
It comes as signatories are "concerned that terrorist groups are involved in the deliberate destruction of cultural heritage and use the illicit trade of cultural property as a source of financing", its text reads.
Since taking over large swathes of Syria and neighbouring Iraq in 2014, the Islamic State jihadist group has destroyed and looted archeological sites in both countries to sell valued artifacts on the black market.
These include the UNESCO world heritage site of Palmyra in Syria and the Assyrian site of Nimrud in Iraq.
Kasoulides said IS and other extremist organisations had raised an estimated $150 million from the trafficking of stolen heritage.
The convention also promotes international cooperation aimed at enhancing international legal frameworks against cultural trafficking.
"I would also like to thank Armenia, Greece, Portugal, San Marino and Mexico for signing the convention today" along with Cyprus, said Kasoulides.
"I call on states to sign and ratify the Nicosia Convention as soon as possible; we have a collective responsibility to protect our cultural heritage and the heritage of mankind."
The convention will come into force after its ratification by national parliaments.
A key clause of the convention puts the burden of proof on buyers to demonstrate that a purchased item was not illicitly acquired.
Ministers at the Nicosia meeting also adopted guidelines to improve support and compensation to the victims of "terrorist attacks".
"The threat of terrorist attacks in Europe remains acute, but victims are not always getting the care and attention they need," CoE Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland said in a statement.
"Governments need to do more to make sure that victims of terrorism are not forgotten and to help them benefit from assistance and compensation."