Friday, 1 February 2013

The American "1970 Rule"

Rick St Hilaire has written on the 'Revisions to the 2008 Guidelines on the Acquisition of Archaeological Material and Ancient Art' published this week by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) but concentrating on its "1970 rule" ('The 1970 Rule and the AAMD Guidelines', Cultural Heritage Lawyer Rick St. Hilaire blog, Feb 1, 2013).

It is worth noting in this context that the 1970 UNESCO Convention itself comnntains no such "rule". This is something the Americans have made-up as another of their misrepresentations of what the Convention is actually about.* The nearest to it is Article 7:
The States Parties to this Convention undertake:
 (a) To take the necessary measures, consistent with national legislation, to prevent museums and similar institutions within their territories from acquiring cultural property originating in another State Party which has been illegally exported after entry into force of this Convention, in the States concerned. Whenever possible, to inform a State of origin Party to this Convention of an offer of such cultural property illegally removed from that State after the entry into force of this Convention in both States; 
(b) (i) to prohibit the import of cultural property stolen from a museum or a religious or secular public monument or similar institution in another State Party to this Convention after the entry into force of this Convention for the States concerned, provided that such property is documented as appertaining to the inventory of that institution;
So what states concerned were states parties to the Convention in 1970? The answer is zero. Only two states became party in 1971 (Ecuador 24th March and Bulgria 15th September '71) and a further seven in 1972 (Nigeria [the third country], Central African Republic, Cameroon, Kuwait, Cambodia, Mexico, Niger). But then, the Convention itself only came into force on 24th April 1972, in accordance with Article 21.

St Hilaire concludes:
The 1970 rule is laudable and worth promoting.  But how does the AAMD intend to convince domestic and foreign government authorities to follow it when the latest Revisions do not appear to go far enough to prevent the accession by museums of post-1970 looted, smuggled, or fraudulently sold antiquities? 
Well, how indeed? More to the point, is it in fact up to the Americans, let alone a small group of Americans to tell the rest of the world what  rule the rest of the world is going to play by? Especially if - as St Hilaire and Lee Rosenbaum among others have pointed out -  it's a group which has itself neither a pristine record, nor a clear future prospect of playing fair by the rest of the world.

Sort your own house out America before you presume to tell the rest of the world how to behave.

* Another example of this is the general conviction (based on their own focus on Article 9) that the 1970 Convention is to "stop looting". Actually reading the (whole) Convention - or even just the title if they cannot manage that - reveals that this is not its aim at all.

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