Tuesday, 29 March 2011

St Hilaire on Current US Antiquities Smuggling Policy

Rick Hilaire (Changing Course: Enhancing Homeland Security's Policy of Seizure and Repatriation with Investigation and Prosecution, culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot, March 12th 2011) adds his voice to those of us who believe that US authorities are not doing enough to confront the problem of illegal antiquities trafficking across US borders. At present, Us border authorities - upon coming across illegal activity involving cultural goods being smuggled across the border - in most cases merely seize the individual objects concerned and return them (most often with much fanfare) to their country of origin. That only serves to repatriate the object, as if that was all that mattered, rather than the fact that illegal activity was involved. Because there is minimal consequence to the perpetrators or accomplices, confiscation of the odd dozen detected smuggled objects or so (and of course it is pretty clear that annually very many artefacts make it across without being detected) does little to deter antiquities trafficking. Only by building legal cases that lead to arrests, prosecutions and convictions can would-be criminals and those in the States who collaborate with them in this activity be deterred.
In order to successfully tackle crimes against cultural heritage, federal officials must pursue a strategy of investigation and prosecution. The current policy of seizure and return does not go far enough [...]. [Currently] smuggled cultural objects are not treated as criminal case evidence. That is to be expected when the primary mission of DHS is to seize and return, not to investigate and prosecute.[...] Combating crimes against cultural heritage requires authorities to investigate and prosecute trafficking rings. Effective law enforcement is characterized by thoughtful investigation, careful handling of physical evidence, and assembly of evidence for review and use by prosecutors. While seizing and repatriating illegally smuggled artifacts serves some purpose to curb antiquities trafficking, federal officials cannot be credited with performing a thorough job if this remains the sole accomplishment.
The problem, St Hilaire indicates, is not the lack of qualified staff (which dealers often accuse the US ICE of); "Immigrations and Customs Enforcement investigators and Customs and Border Protection agents are skilled law enforcement officers who are capable of combating antiquities trafficking effectively", the problem, lies with US policy makers who are failing to "directly engage illegal antiquities networks by adopting a policy of investigation and prosecution that enhances the existing policy of seizure and repatriation".

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