Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Mr. Benjamin should be well acquainted with cultural property issues due to an ongoing dispute with Dr. Zahi Hawass, the publicity seeking Secretary General of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, over a funerary mask of a nineteenth dynasty noblewoman named Ka Nefer Nefer. See generally: http://www.egypttoday.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=6781 and http://stlouis.art.museum/index.aspx?id=124&obj=144
Sunday, September 28, 2008
The article recounts quite a story of how a law meant to protect the rights of Native Americans to the bones and artifacts of their ancestors has entangled Senator Inouye, his staff, the Department of the Interior and the venerable Bishop Museum in quite a tale of conflict of interest, self-dealing, theft, breach of fiduciary duty and even contempt of court. Meanwhile, "Indian Country Today" also reports elsewhere that the National Park Service is under investigation for improperly spending some $3 million in NAGPRA funds and that the entire program is under review for responsiveness to Tribal interests. http://www.indiancountrytoday.com/national/29791944.html
What a mess. At least a member of the NAGPRA review panel indicates that his committee is “very open” to “increasing the accountability and transparency” of the law’s implementation. Amen.
Friday, September 26, 2008
The Archaeological Institute of America, the Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation, and the U.S. Committee for the Blue Shield announce that the United States Senate voted on September 25 to give its advice and consent to ratification of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.
The United States now joins 121 other nations in becoming a party to this historic treaty which establishes the principles for protecting cultural sites, monuments and collections during both armed conflict and military occupation. By taking this significant step, the United States demonstrates its commitment to the preservation of the world’s cultural, artistic, religious and historic legacy.
The Library of Congress "Thomas" search engine (http://thomas.loc.gov/) indicates that the 1954 Hague Convention was acceded to with the following "understandings:"
Resolved (two-thirds of the Senators present concurring therein),-
720SECTION 1. SENATE ADVICE AND CONSENT SUBJECT TO UNDERSTANDINGS AND A DECLARATION
The Senate advises and consents to the ratification of the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, concluded on May 14, 1954 (Treaty Doc. 106-1(A)), subject to the understandings of section 2 and the declaration of section 3.-720
SECTION 2. UNDERSTANDINGS
The advice and consent of the Senate under section 1 is subject to the following understandings, which shall be included in the instrument of ratification:
(1) It is the understanding of the United States of America that ``special protection,'' as defined in Chapter II of the Convention, codifies customary international law in that it, first, prohibits the use of any cultural property to shield any legitimate military targets from attack and, second, allows all property to be attacked using any lawful and proportionate means, if required by military necessity and notwithstanding possible collateral damage to such property.
(2) It is the understanding of the United States of America that any decision by any military commander, military personnel, or any other person responsible for planning, authorizing, or executing military action or other activities covered by this Convention shall only be judged on the basis of that person's assessment of the information reasonably available to the person at the time the person planned, authorized, or executed the action under review, and shall not be judged on the basis of information that comes to light after the action under review was taken.
(3) It is the understanding of the United States of America that the rules established by the Convention apply only to conventional weapons, and are without prejudice to the rules of international law governing other types of weapons, including nuclear weapons.
(4) It is the understanding of the United States of America that, as is true for all civilian objects, the primary responsibility for the protection of cultural objects rests with the Party controlling that property, to ensure that it is properly identified and that it is not used for an unlawful purpose.
-720SECTION 3. DECLARATION
The advice and consent of the Senate under section 1 is subject to the following declaration:With the exception of the provisions that obligate the United States to impose sanctions on persons who commit or order to be committed a breach of the Convention, this Convention is self-executing. This Convention does not confer private rights enforceable in United States courts.
It is my own understanding that the United States Military already largely followed the Convention anyway. Presumably, the Senate's "understandings" reflect current US military views on how the Convention should be applied in practice.
While the Senate's ratification is thus probably largely symbolic, the Lawyers' Committee, the AIA, the U.S. Committee for the Blue Shield and others still deserve credit for encouraging action on an instrument that has been languishing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee since 1999. Still, one must recognize that the 1954 Hague Convention has been spectacularly unsuccessful in preventing damage to cultural property in places like the Balkans and most recently, Georgia. Only the real commitment of national authorities, military commanders, and the troops on the ground can ensure cultural property is indeed protected as much as possible given the exigencies of war.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
While I am all for funding restoration projects of important sites, one of the grants to the "Conservation Fund for Guatemala" potentially raises the same conflict of interest questions I have had with other grants to "the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute" and "Heritage Watch." For more, see: http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2008/06/state-department-slush-fund-for.html
Note that part of the grant is meant for the "documentation of plundering at Yaxha-Nakum-Naranjo National Park."
I suspect that when the Guatemala MOU comes up for renewal in 2012 someone from the "Conservation Fund for Guatemala" will show up at the CPAC hearing with documentation paid for by ECA that supports yet another extension of the MOU. As these groups tend to be advocates for the restrictions in question, issues of fairness are raised, particularly if there is no guarantee that the information is compiled or presented in a neutral way.
Here is a recent example. At the CPAC hearing on the Cambodian renewal, a representative of Heritage Watch, another recipient of ECA's financial largess, acted as the primary advocate for the continuation of and expansion of import restrictions. For more, see: http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2008/09/cambodian-import-restrictions-extended.html My recollection is that the Heritage Watch representative spoke with some feeling about looting of archaeological sites by "armed gangs," but failed to highlight the involvement of Cambodian military in the problem. This only came out based on questioning from a CPAC member to the Cambodian Ambassador. Of course, the fact that an instrumentality of the Cambodian government is responsible for looting Cambodian archaeological sites is a fact that should not be suppressed for purposes of CPAC's recommendations on the subject.
Funding such advocates for import restrictions only feeds into the perception that the entire process is deeply flawed. Does ECA really want this perception to continue, particularly when other parts of ECA spend considerable time and effort lecturing other governments about the virtues of transparency and fair process? While I appreciate the sincere desire of members of the archaeological community and the employees of the State Department to help protect the cultural heritage of other countries, the end should never be allowed to justify the means of rigging the system in favor of ensuring the broadest import restrictions possible.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
The piece in question is a 14-by-13-inch foot from a sculpture of Artemis, ancient goddess of the hunt, that was originally a part of a 520-foot frieze that ran round the temple.
Despite the hopeful claims of the Greek President, I find it doubtful that the British will consider the return of this fragment and others like it as much of a "precedent" for the repatriation of the Elgin Marbles from the British Museum.
What I find somewhat puzzling is that the the fragment is apparently not being given outright, but rather is said to be on a "permanent loan." Perhaps, this was done to avoid some Italian or Greek legal provision relating to deaccession or taxes.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
I attended the CPAC hearing earlier this year. Two issues stood out. First, the Cambodian Ambassador forthrightly admitted that the Cambodian military was responsible for looting many archaeological sites. One would think the US would ask the Cambodians to take basic self-help measures (like reigning in their own military) as a precondition for extending current import restrictions. However, once restrictions are imposed they obviously start taking on a life of their own.
Second, a representative from Heritage Watch, a group that evidently receives funding from the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), was the main spokesperson for those advocating the extension and expansion of the current restrictions. To me at least, this potentially raises serious conflict of interest issues as well as the question whether State Department money is being directly or indirectly used to lobby the State Department itself. For more, see: http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2008/06/state-department-slush-fund-for.html
The text of the new MOU with Cambodia has not yet been posted on the ECA web site. It will be interesting to see if the MOU at least makes the suggestion that the Cambodians crack down on their own military with respect to looting.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Attendees at the ceremony included John Russell, a State Department employee and archaeologist. Russell previously lobbied Congress for passage of legislation to allow the State Department to impose "emergency" import restrictions on a host of Iraqi archaeological artifacts, including ones as common as coins. For more see, http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2008/05/john-russell-from-activist-to-regulator.html
As the "Imperial Valley News" states,
Julie L. Myers, Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), completed the repatriation of 1,046 cultural antiquities to the Government of Iraq that were seized in four separate investigations dating back to 2001.
The items, which included terra cotta cones inscribed in Cuneiform text, a praying god figurine that was once imbedded in a Sumerian temple and coins bearing the likenesses of ancient emperors, are an illustration of the long and varied history of the country now known as Iraq. Remnants of ancient Cuneiform tablets, which were seized by the Customs Service in 2001, were recovered from beneath the ruins of the World Trade Center. [Note: They were evidently stored after being seized in a US Customs Building that was destroyed in the 9/11 attacks]
Later on in the article there are more details about the seizure of coins:
[I]n 2003, five Federal Express packages containing glass bottles, coins, copper knives, spear heads, necklaces, cylinder seals, a bronze stick and set of decorative armor were imported by another Newark, N.J., gallery. ICE New York agents determined, with the help of experts, that the items, which were originally declared to be of British origin, were all, except for the armor, from Iraq. In total, 671 items were seized (406 glass bottles, 5 bronze spear heads, 6 bronze daggers, 87 cylinder seals, 2 metal sculptures, 1 metal axe head, 120 beaded necklaces, 1 large bronze spear/sword, 10 metal daggers, 30 antique coins, 2 bronze figurines, 1 small glass plate) and determined to be from various locations throughout Iraq.
This article raises two obvious questions outside those already raised in two recent posts about Immigration and Customs Enforcement's exploits.
Most obviously, "Is that all?" I'm sure some will think that 1,046 objects is a significant number. However, that number must be judged against all the hyperbole we have heard since 2003. You know, the incessant chatter in the press and archaeological blogs that Iraqi archaeological sites have been "strip-mined" of immense numbers of artifacts with a lion's share being destined for the illicit market in the United States and Europe. At a minimum, the actual number seized in the US belies any claim that whatever may have left Iraq illicitly was destined for our shores.
Second, as someone who has collected and studied ancient coins for over 30 years, I would be quite interested to learn how "experts" were able to opine that the coins found in a FED EX package were illicitly removed from Iraq. Coins that circulated in Iraq also circulated around the Middle East (and beyond). Presumably, the coins in question could have been found in Iraq. On the other hand, they could also have been found most anywhere. And for that matter, for all I know, they could have resided in some collection for years before being seized by US Customs.
I say this for this simple fact: It is likely that much of the material that was seized and repatriated to Iraq was simply abandoned by the importer. Let's face it. The costs of hiring a lawyer to contest the seizure of items of small value like "30 antique coins" is just not worth it.
Without Customs' claims being tested in a contested adjudicatory hearing, it is at least possible that a significant number of the 1,046 items mentioned in the articles are actually being "repatriated" to a country from whence they never came!
All and all, this should be a cause for deep embarrassment for both ICE and members of the archaeological community like John Russell. Perhaps, that is why we are only hearing about this handover ceremony from the VOA and "The Imperial Valley News."
In the meantime, sources like the Art Newspaper are starting to ask hard questions about the claims of archaeological community about the extent of looting in Iraq. Hopefully, that long delayed scrutiny of the archaeological community's claims about Iraq is only beginning.
Monday, September 15, 2008
Despite the title, overall, I suspect that the numbers cited more accurately reflect changed enforcement priorities than anything else. As was explained to me by an old Customs lawyer, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) loves these cases because of the publicity. The problem, of course, is that the quest for publicity often leads to hype that is not reflective of reality. Statements like these certainly don't help: "'A nation's culture is not for sale. These are not souvenirs to be displayed at someone's house,' said Anthony Mangione, a special agent in charge of the Miami office of the agency also known as ICE." In particular, this statement implies that collecting itself is somehow an illicit pursuit. Apparently, Agent Mangione does not know or much care that cultural artifacts have long been collected, preserved and displayed legally by Americans in their own homes for generations.
Again, while no one should condone smuggling, preservation of cultural heritage would be better served if there was less hype and more of an effort to incentivize source countries to pass fairer laws akin to the UK's system of Treasure Trove. That way, any problems would be largely addressed at the source than through our criminal justice system here.
A major problem in my opinion is that ICE and other federal agencies rely far too heavily on archaeologists with an axe to grind against collectors and museums as major sources of information. Using activists as experts is patently unfair and no doubt has led the government to overreach on occasion. (See: http://www.accg.us/issues/news/old-pots-cops-paint-as-201chot201d-sold-openly-in-thailand/?searchterm=Thailand) One hopes that the new "Penn Cultural Heritage Center" will not institutionalize this problem, but that remains to be seen.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
LA Times Series on Roxanna Brown, an Expert in Southeast Asian Antiquities Who Died in Federal Custody
The latest LA Times story can be found here: http://www.latimes.com/roxanna Cremers indicates the other stories will be archived there as well. While one should not condone smuggling or efforts to cheat the tax man, federal investigators have probably overreached on claiming that artifacts were "stolen" from Thailand from the start. See:http://www.accg.us/issues/news/old-pots-cops-paint-as-201chot201d-sold-openly-in-thailand/?searchterm=Thailand
As set forth in this link, the same types of artifacts that the government claims are "stolen" are openly available for sale in Thailand itself. Moreover, Thailand had not even bothered to sign the 1970 UNESCO Convention. See: http://exchanges.state.gov/culprop/unesco02.html Thus, Thailand even lacks standing to ask the United States to impose import restrictions on these artifacts in support of Thai export controls.
Under the circumstances, I find it troubling that the Government has pursued this matter in such a heavy-handed fashion. These tactics have already cost Ms. Brown her life. The lawsuit that her family has brought is also likely to cost the government dearly as well.
Sunday, September 7, 2008
The article is a synopsis of a larger report prepared for the Task Force on Cultural and Creative Industries, Planning Commission of India.
Ahuja is a highly respected scholar of art history. He first explains economic development/urbanism is now a far greater cause of site destruction than art collecting:
The biggest irony of all is that, in any case, a desire for the possession or art objects is no longer the driving force for the desecration of or pillaging of ancient sites. The Indian government has built dams … knowing that the archaeological context will be sacrificed. It is the advance of man – urbanisation, the cutting down of forests, the construction of roads and dams, and expanding agriculture --- that is now the biggest source of destruction.
Like Cuno, he also understands that:
(laws controlling export of archaeological material) were passed in the interests of nationalism… designed to foster a belief in outside cultural imperialism and are both a symptom and source of deep emotional feeling. And although these laws have proved remarkably ineffective, their emotional basis makes it difficult for the relevant authorities to adjust them.
He also explains that in practice such laws do little but promote public corruption and perverse results:
The law invests officialdom with powers that risk engendering corruption. It is widely known that bribes have been paid to get a license to sell antiquities, to get "non-antiquity" certificates to be able to export them, to even register an antiquity with the authorities.... [U]nsympathetic laws will continue to result in the destruction of the archaeological record unless a proper system of reward exists, since finders usually channel such objects into the illicit market. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the costs of bribes or adhering to the law are potentially so damaging that finders are deliberately destroying pieces rather than run the risk of being caught with them.
As a result, Ahuda suggests that a fundamental "adjustment" in such laws is what is needed:
An adjustment of the present laws to encourage legitimate domestic trade would be effective in restricting the smuggling routes on which the illicit international trade depends. The easing of the sale of such items within India will go a long way in preserving national heritage as awareness of art, history and heritage increases.
It is interesting to find that an academic from a "source country" is advocating the same things authorities like James Cuno and the AAMD have been advocating in this country. Hopefully, authorities like Ahuda will encourage other academics from source countries to also challenge the outdated nationalistic orthodoxy in their own countries. Perhaps, then even the archaeologists behind the new Penn Cultural Heritage Center will notice.
Saturday, September 6, 2008
This is what the Penn Cultural Heritage Center plans to do:
Education and outreach programming for diverse audiences, including law enforcement, customs officers, lawyers, policymakers, and academics involved in cultural property protection and issues—as well as community stakeholders and the general public. The Center has built upon earlier Museum training programs with United States officers to help stop the illicit movement of antiquities. Plans for a yearly Continuing Legal Education course on cultural heritage and a Speakers Series for the public are underway.
Consultation on national and international policy issues, working with Ministries of Culture and other governmental groups to develop a holistic approach in the management of cultural heritage at local, national, and international levels. The Center is currently consulting with agencies in Mali, Montenegro, and Honduras, with long-range plans to build this capacity.
Conferences, with opportunities for in-depth dialog, publication, and, where appropriate, concluding public presentations. A first such conference, exploring indigenous views of cultural heritage, features prominent native scholars and activists from North and South America, will run the week of September 29, with a public program on October 4.
Other areas of development for the Center include community development and the integration of community involvement in archaeological programs and site protection; museum collaborations on a national and international scale, with a focus on developing best practices related to heritage issues; and the development of an expert network of archaeologists versed in cultural heritage law and ethics issues surrounding cultural heritage. The PCHC will launch a public website, within the Penn Museum’s site, by the end of 2008.The Penn Cultural Heritage Center is supported by funding from the Provost’s Office of the University of Pennsylvania and from private donors.
It will be interesting to learn more about the Center's programs and funding sources (particularly if the Center plans in the future to solicit monies from government sources like the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs or from activist "source countries" like Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Egypt). It will also be interesting to learn whether the Center's programs will encourage any real debate over these complex issues.
Friday, September 5, 2008
Hopefully, one of his students will ask more about the decision. Even better, perhaps someone will do a paper on whether or not the decision was made in conformity with the dictates of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act. For more, see: http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/search?q=Burns and http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/search?q=CAARI and http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2008/07/short-recap-of-cultural-property.html
Thursday, September 4, 2008
The White House Personnel Announcement can be found here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2008/07/20080731-12.html
In pertinent part, it states:
The President intends to designate the following individual:
Katharine Lee Reid, of North Carolina, to be Chairman of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee.
The President intends to appoint the following individuals to be Members of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee, for the remainder of three-year terms expiring 04/25/11:
Eileen Johnson, of Texas, (Anthropology) Robert C. O'Brien, of California, (Public) James Wright Willis, of California, (International Sales Expert)
James Willis was reappointed. The other two individuals are new appointments. Robert C. O'Brien is a lawyer from the well-known firm of Arent Fox LLP. The firm has announced his appointment here: http://www.arentfox.com/newsroom/index.cfm?fa=pressReleaseDisp&content_id=1766 From an Internet search, Eileen Johnson appears to be associated with Texas Tech. I suspect O'Brien may be replacing Marta de la Torre and Johnson may be replacing Nancy Wilkie, but I am not 100% sure.
Overall, assuming Mr. O'Brien has no agenda, I think CPAC will benefit from having a lawyer on the panel. There are major procedural concerns relating to how the State Department processes requests for import restrictions. Hopefully, a trained lawyer will help ensure that State Department staff adheres to the letter of the law in bringing such requests before CPAC.
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
As Kaufman notes, unlike prior sales of Hispanic Society material, this sale would seem to potentially be at odds with the Hispanic Society's core mission of preserving Spanish Culture. Obviously, putting together a similar collection today would be very difficult, if not impossible.
Moreover, while there evidently is some possibility Spain may wish to purchase the collection, it presumably would only do so to repatriate it back to that country. That, of course, would do little to promote the appreciation of Spanish coins and culture in this country.
One further thought. While the Kaufman article focuses on some of the superlative pieces in the collection, no doubt the collection also contains many coins of modest value. Hopefully, the ANS and the Hispanic Society will come to some agreement that at least allows such coins to stay accessible to numismatists in the ANS collections.
US UNESCO Commission Recommendations on Legal Markets, Transparency of CPAC, Multinational Responses and Long-term Loans
Recommendations 3 and observations 1 and 2 and recommendations 4, 5, and 6 are of particular interest to those concerned about processes before the Cultural Property Advisory Committee:
Recommendation 3. The USG should consider its position on the Intangible Cultural Heritage Convention.
Observation 1. The U.S. Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) process should maintain adequate transparency, and the advice given by CPAC implement all the obligations of the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property and its U.S. implementing statute.
Observation 2. U.S. implementation of the multinational requirements of both the CPAC Convention and its implementing statute should reflect the balance of considerations in those documents.
Recommendation 4. The USG should encourage UNESCO to study the potential of improved and expanded legal markets in reducing looting and theft, and illegal markets.
Recommendation 5. UNESCO should encourage source nations to protect antiquities and sites within their territories and promote capacity building to this end.
· UNESCO should study alternatives such as long-term loans and exchanges (e.g. ten years or more), for the sharing of cultural property among all nations without transfer of ownership.
· Possible exchanges might include joint participation in archeological projects, training and infrastructure support.
Those concerned with the way CPAC operates should applaud the Committee's efforts to focus the State Department bureaucracy on issues of legal markets, transparency of CPAC, multinational responses and long-term loans. Whether these recommendations will ever be acted upon, however, remains to be seen, particularly given the upcoming change in administration of government.