Friday, 14 November 2014

New Bill in US House of Representatives to Protect Cultural Property

Over in the US, the dugup dealers' lobbyists are busily sniping as archaeologists or Turkey while their lawmakers get on with the job of discussing antiquities behind their backs. Surely following news like this is what the dealers associations are reportedly reportedly paying  tens of thousands of collectors' money to their lobbyists to "Observe"... Anyhow, the breaking news is on this blog, not any collectors' snidey-snipey nonsense.

Legislation to protect cultural property worldwide and curb ISIL funding by prohibiting import of Syrian antiquities was introduced into the House by Representatives Eliot L. Engel (D-NY) and  Chris Smith (R-NJ) as was announced in a recent press release (November 14, 2014):
Representative Eliot L. Engel (D-NY), the leading Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ), chair of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations today announced that they have introduced legislation to improve American efforts to preserve cultural property around the world and cut off one source of funding to ISIL.  The Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act (H.R. 5703) would take steps to coordinate efforts across government to preserve cultural artifacts where they may be threatened by conflict, instability, or natural disaster. [...] The Engel-Smith legislation would create a White House Coordinator for International Cultural Property Protection to coordinate and promote efforts by multiple federal agencies, including diplomatic activities, military activities, law enforcement activities, and the work of the Cultural Antiquities Task Force.  It would also impose import restrictions on cultural property unlawfully removed from Syria, protecting the property at risk of loss or destruction at the hands of ISIS/ISIL and other international criminal and terrorist organizations.
This presumably supplements and supplants the CCPIA which is intended only to partially implement the principles of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on smuggling cultural property. Depending on how it is written, this proposed legislation could achieve far more. The text has not yet been published, maybe the collectors' lobbyists have privileged access to it.  If it does make the CCPIA only one small part of US cultural property protection instead of its mainstay (which can only be a good thing, that law is crap) they obviously all that money wasted by the ACCG and other dealers'; associations fighting the implementation of the CCPIA where it affected their interests was money doubly down the drain and bringing the whole trade into disrepute. Good. Of more interest is that the existence of an overseeing body directly answerable to the White House could well lead to a reassessment of the suitability of existing US legislation to dal with the problem of illicit antiquities - hopefully leading to increased pressure to create a new system adequate to the needs of the 21st century global antiquities market.

The press release goes on to stress that it's not just through the financial aspects that the unregulated trade is a damaging one:
“Whether art or architecture or archived materials, cultural property plays a vital role in the heritage of peoples all around the world. When these materials are lost because of war or natural disasters, they can never be replaced and parts of those cultures are lost forever,” said Rep. Engel. “Since World War II, the United States has been a leader in protecting cultural property. Today, ISIL and other terrorist organizations have found a lucrative source of revenue in artifacts they traffic out of areas of conflict. America must respond by denying terrorists and criminals the ability to profit from instability by looting the world of its greatest treasures.” Representative Smith underscored that too many times in world history aggressors have tried to erase the memory and identity of oppressed peoples. “Our global cultural patrimony has all too often been targeted by extremists who want to wipe out the collective memories of ethnic and religious minorities from lands they seek to control and conquer,” said Rep. Smith. “Just this past July, ISIL destroyed the Tomb of Jonah in Iraq, which was a living link to the biblical prophet Jonah, on the site of the ancient Assyrian capital of Nineveh. The fight to preserve our common cultural heritage, as well as to deny extremists such as ISIL resources from the sale of blood antiquities, is yet another front on the global war against terror.” [....] Cultural property has recently been lost in Egypt due to political instability, in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein, in Syria during the civil war, in Iraq and Syria due to ISIS/ISIL, in Mali and Afghanistan from radical Islamist activity, in Haiti from the 2010 earthquake, and as a result of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
It also mentions the precedent set by the Monuments Men.  I am sure dealers (the ADCAEA in particular - no?) will be giving this proposed bill their full support to show ow they too value the protection of the world's cultural heritage and desire their country to once again take the lead in showing the way how things should be done. I am sure every one of their members would be aghast at the possibility that a single cent of their money is going into the pockets of cultural racketeers profiting from bloody civil strife.

UPDFATE 16th November
The text of H. R. 5703 is now available and Peter Tompa on his snidey-snipey blog attempts to pretend he saw this breaking news first. He did not of course.

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