Saturday, 24 September 2011

The American Bar Association: Who Put them up to It?

As noted above, there will be a panel session at a Dublin meeting of the American Bar Association International Law Section and its Art and Cultural Heritage Law Committee in October on "the law of finds in England and Wales, Ireland, Scotland and the United States" called: The Future of Recording the Past in England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and the United States.

One wonders who initiated this and with what aim. The significance is that it will be chaired by US lawyers Patty Gerstenblith (DePaul University College of Law) and ACCG board member and paid dealers' lobbyist Peter K. Tompa (Bailey & Ehrenberg PLLC). Gerstenblith is the chairperson of the US Cultural Policy Advisory Committee (CPAC) set up by the [1970 UNESCO] 'Convention on Cultural Property Implementation (sic) Act' (CCPIA). As we have seen one currently fashionable tactic of the US antiquities dealers' lobby (coin dealers in particular) has been to insist on what I have termed here the "Witschonke principle". This basically insists that US lawmakers should (regardless of what the 1970 UNESCO Convention actually says) not feel obliged to do anything to help a foreign country to deal with an archaeological looting problem unless it adopts first the measures US collectors and dealers would like to be applied. These measures of course are such that would mean the least possible interference with free access of the trade to loads and loads of freshly dugup archaeological artefacts. Such a system is England's Treasure Act (only restricting sale of artefacts - excluding most coins - of gold or silver) with a voluntary Portable Antiquities Scheme overlay to make it look good.

I cannot help but think that the aim here is to persuade the Chair of the CPAC to look more favourably at such proposals from the collecting community when more MOU proposals and renewals come before the CPAC, thus further undermining US resolve to do anything about the massive and damaging US no-questions-asked market in antiquities.

I would say that a heavy responsibility lies on participants Roger Bland, Stuart Campbell and Eamon Kelly to present their case in such a way as it separates issues of "finders" from that of the no-questions-asked commerce in archaeological artefacts which is what the CPAC (and the US Art and Cultural Heritage Law Committee are primarily concerned with. In particular, will Dr Bland admit that every indication is that under his watch the amount of artefact hunting in England and Wales has been sharply increasing, instead of decreasing as a result of conscientious "archaeological outreach" by the PAS? Will anyone ask him for proper answers to the questions David Gill posed in the PIA forum session about the preservation of the archaeological record as a result of PAS "outreach"? Will the CPAC chair and her legal pals get a fully balanced picture of the long-term archaeological effects of current British policies on artefact hunting and collecting, or will they have to satisfy themselves with the standard "wottalottastuff-we-got" presentation of the PAS merely as an expanding database of the partial fruits of archaeological destruction?

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