Sunday, 18 December 2011

Licit and illicit

An American coin dealer responds to my comments on the campaigning by collectors of dugup ancient coins to overturn the bilateral cultural property agreements between the US and other states parties of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. He complains that archaeoblogger Paul Barford "does not recognize US law or its foundation the Constitution" and that his views on the licit trade in dugup antiquities are allegedly based "upon his own edicts from his throne of magical self-declared moral authority in far-off, cloud-borne Wolkenkuckucksheim". Furthermore, Americans have:
every right under US law to stand up for their longstanding and legitimate rights to continue collecting ancient coins licitly imported from other countries.
Well, it is true I am not overly concerned with what Mr Dealer imagines the 1787 US Constitution says about coin collecting, I personally see nothing there which refers to it. What however is of importance is how one defines the notion of coins "licitly imported from other countries". This is clearly defined by the international convention to which most countries in the world, including the United States of America, have become state parties. The 1970 Convention defines what can and cannot be considered cultural property (Art 1) and dugup coins and other archaeological material fall into that category. Article 3 is the one that concerns us:
"The import, export or transfer of ownership of cultural property effected contrary to the provisions adopted under this Convention by the States Parties thereto, shall be illicit".
Those provisions are set out in the other articles, in particular Article 6:
The States Parties to this Convention undertake: (a) To introduce an appropriate certificate in which the exporting State would specify that the export of the cultural property in question is authorized. The certificate should accompany all items of cultural property exported in accordance with the regulations ; (b) to prohibit the exportation of cultural property from their territory unless accompanied by the above-mentioned export certificate [...];
and then Article 8:
The States Parties to this Convention undertake to impose penalties or administrative sanctions on any person responsible for infringing the prohibitions referred to under Articles 6(b) and 7(b) above.
and Article 10:
The States Parties to this Convention undertake: (a) To restrict by education, information and vigilance, movement of cultural property illegally removed from any State Party to this Convention[...]
Art 1 (much misunderstood by US collectors) gives each state party the right to specifically designate which cultural property it will introduce restrictions on the movement of. So basically, trade in any items removed from Cyprus, China, Greece, Italy, Greece, Egypt, Iraq, the United Kingdom and all the other parties of the 1970 UNESCO Convention without following the requisite export procedure, that is obtaining an export licence for material that requires one is illicit in the terms of Art 3 of the UNESCO Conention. That. actually is irrespective of whether the US has or has not an MOU with any nation to all provide extra vigilance. The undertaking to provide vigilance of the movement of such material is incumbent on all states parties, whether or not the US actually does so is another matter. The US is well known in the international community for saying one thing and doing another. I could not find where it said anything about that in the Constitution either.

Vignette: Would Captain America collect dugup ancient coins without documentation of lawful export? I doubt it.

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