Monday, 9 December 2013

US Fails to Prevent Exports of Contested Cultural Property

'Native American Hopi artefacts sold at Paris auction' BBC News 9th December 2013.
The US embassy's request to suspend the sale came after the failure on Friday of a legal challenge by advocacy group Survival International on behalf of Arizona's 18,000-strong Hopis. In its letter, the US embassy said it had asked for the suspension so that the two tribes "might have the opportunity to identify the objects, investigate their provenance and determine whether they have a claim to recover the items". The embassy quoted the 1970 Unesco Convention on the Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, to which France is a signatory.
... and so is the US, so where is the export licensing system for cultural property (Convention Art. 6) which would immediately identify these items as illegally exported and thus give grounds for halting the sale? An export licensing procedure also allows scrutiny of ownership rights of the exporter too. The US is here failing to safeguard the cultural property of its own citizens, the whole point of becomng a state party to the Convention.

It is interesting that they themselves frequently hold that if a "source nation" does not "do enough" - in their eyes - to protect the cultural heritage, it should be forfeit to US buyers. Let's see how the boot fits on the other foot. 

This implications of this significant and indicative case were, needless to say, not examined in the Washington-based "Cultural Property Observer" blog, nor explored by the staff of the so-called "Cultural Property Research Institute".


Cultural Property Observer said...

I'm not aware of any export controls on US art, which makes the State Department's efforts to impose import restrictions in an extra-legal fashion even more unfathomable. As I understand it, Native American grave goods taken from federal or tribal land will be deemed stolen from either the tribes or the federal government. But presumably none of these artifacts fell into either category, which makes the State Department's efforts politically correct perhaps but with no real legal basis for them. As an aside, having represented Native American tribes in the past, I can say from personal experience that the tribes don't always speak with one voice. Thus, not all tribal members may feel the same as those who say these are artifacts are so sacred that they may not be sold.

Paul Barford said...

I suspect you've not understood what I wrote.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Your are just blaming America again. Perhaps, with a devotion to the free market (not shared admittedly in some reaches of State and Customs) it is a conscious choice not to put export controls on what others might consider cultural property.

Paul Barford said...

Because it's just 'injun' stuff? (Native Americans = others?).

In that case, if the US will not adopt the measures others have to give them a legal "handle", let the US not complain when France does not agree to their request to suspend such an auction. Article 6 is part of the Convention too.

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