Thursday, 9 April 2015

Hopi Holocaust? Apply the Convention

Clouseau and the
Hopi masks
Incroyable. The Holocaust Art Restitution Project and the Chairman of the Hopi tribe announce that they have filed a lawsuit in France against a recent decision refusing to suspend the sale of Hopi masks in Hotel Drouot Dec 15th last year (see here for earlier case). They are either seeking publicity or just have fatally misunderstood why they failed last year. But they should understand, this is the same as their own silly St Louis mask case where Judge Autrey ruled agains the Egyptians on the same grounds, that theft had not been demonstrated. Exactly the same. What is good for the Egyptian goose (who have documentation) is as good for the Hopi gander (who have not). The Hopi tribe have legal identity in the USA, but it may surprise them but is true they do not have that status in France  any more than the "metal detectorists tribe", the "Harley Davidson riders tribe" or any other interest group. As such the "chairman" of that tribe cannot appear in court representing himself as the owner of this or that piece of cultural property. Why is that so difficult for the HARP lawyers to understand?   This is precisely why we have the 1970 UNESCO Convention. The USA is a state party to that convention it is true, but only apply its principles minimally. If it applied articles 6 and 7, then the Hopi would have some grounds for a complaint in a French court. Without application of art 6 and 7, they have not a hopi in hell. Let us see the USA honouring all its obligations (including to its own citizens) under the 1970 UNESCO Convention, or let it gracefully withdraw and give US antiquity dealers what they want - complete guiltfree freedom to trample over the rights of others and flog off whatever they can get their hands from. For let us be clear at whose hands these items ended up on sale abroad. US dealers and middlemen must have been involved somewhere.

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