Wednesday, 13 April 2016

#Culture Under Threat's "Recommendations..." on Halting Antiquities Looting and Trafficking from the MENA Region

In the NYT article by Steven Lee Myers on HR 1493 we find mixed in - fairly indiscriminately - material concerning something else entirely. It discusses a report coordinated by the Antiquities Coalition, the Asia Society and the Middle East Institute which reflects "broad frustration at the inability of the United States and other governments around the world to stanch (sic) the rapacious looting that has occurred since Syria’s civil war began in 2011".
A task force of prominent advocacy organizations, museums and universities called on the Obama administration to take far more aggressive steps — including military operations — to halt the destruction and looting of cultural sites in Iraq and Syria. In addition to calling on Congress to pass the legislation the Senate voted on, the task force’s report, titled “#CultureUnderThreat,” urged the White House to appoint a senior director to coordinate the government’s actions against blood antiquities and to increase resources for stricter enforcements by customs officials, the Justice Department and the Internal Revenue Service. “The U.S. response to cultural racketeering is currently decentralized and implemented on an ad hoc basis, with several agencies involved but no single agency coordinating the efforts,” the report said. It went on to lament the slowness of enacting provisions that the United Nations Security Council had called for in February 2015. “The lack of action has kept the United States market open to the import of Syrian antiquities, making it a potential source of funding for extremist organizations,” the report said. [...] The United States, as the task force’s report noted, accounts for 43 percent of the global art market, making it a potential leader in demand for illicit imports.
Of course "decentralised" is a euphemism for virtually non-existent. The US quite obviously has no Ministry of Culture and no legislation which protects its own cultural property from loss through export (like the Hopi and Navajo masks etc they are always bellyaching about when they surface on the Paris market). In sheer Bonkerness, the US legislation is only marginally worse than that of the lackadaisical UK.
One of the most striking recommendations calls on the Pentagon to use airstrikes to protect sites, presumably by trying to halt advances by the Islamic State to new territories or by striking heavy machinery used in the looting of places like Palmyra, which Syrian government forces reclaimed from the Islamic State last month. That recommendation prompted a dissenting opinion from one of the task force’s members, Emma Cunliffe, a researcher at Oxford University. Ms. Cunliffe argued that the use of military force, by itself, was neither strategically nor ethically sound. “Military action may necessitate both a risk to the lives of the military force and the loss of the lives of those under attack, for what — to some — is no more than stone and so not worth any human life,” she wrote in a statement included in the report.
And good for her. She is one hundred percent right. It is a shame that so few Europeans were included in the Task Force. The Americans seem very fond of bombs when they are aimed at brown-skinned folk in other lands, in love with their armed forces and jolly happy to send swarms of terror drones overseas to provoke enmity towards the west by their unilateral policy of executing foreign nationals without trial. I think they are forgetting that the whole, and sole, idea of the 1970 UNESCO Convention is to use antiquities as one of the means of "building peace in the minds of men" (or rather if you look at the text, preventing disputes over cultural heritage fostering dissent and conflict). "Bomb the lot of the blighters who touch our [sic] heritage"  is not really my idea of peace-fostering. It is sheer naked aggression provoked by greed masquerading as pseudo-altruism. STOP it.
The Culture Under Threat Task Force was established by the Asia Society, the Antiquities Coalition, and the Middle East Institute as the result of a forum on how to combat antiquities trafficking and destruction held at Asia Society in New York last September.
 Below is a summary of the task force's key recommendations:
For the [United States] federal government, the Task Force calls on:
  • President Obama to block the import of illicit antiquities through executive action, as he did for oil, and to designate a senior director at The National Security Council to drive U.S. policy in the fight against blood antiquities and terrorist financing.
  • The U.S. Congress to pass the Protect and Preserve Cultural Property Act to immediately restrict antiquities imports from Syria, and to grant the limited waiver requested by the State Department to rejoin the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to assert U.S. leadership and influence in the global battle against heritage destruction.
  • The U.S. Defense Department to consider in conjunction with allies when appropriate the launch of airstrikes when extremists threaten heritage sites, to further identify “no strike lists” of cultural sites, to train Army civil affairs personnel to work with civilian authorities on cultural property protection, and to reinvigorate the modern “Monuments Men” for cultural missions.
  • U.S. law enforcement to buttress Immigration's and Custom Enforcement’s “seize and repatriate” strategy with prosecutions that dismantle criminal networks engaged in the antiquities black market, and for the U.S. Justice Department to end impunity by dedicating prosecutors with expertise in terrorist financing and heritage crime, modeled on its wildlife trafficking unit.
  • The Internal Revenue Service to eliminate tax breaks for blood antiquities by requiring proof of legal ownership and history.
For the international community, the Task Force calls on:
  • The United Nations to urge the International Criminal Court to open an investigation of cultural crimes in Iraq and Syria, to train peacekeepers to safeguard cultural resources, to include heritage reconstruction in post-conflict planning, and to support the capacity of national courts to conduct domestic prosecutions of cultural racketeering and cleansing.
  • All intergovernmental organizations to include the protection of cultural resources in their peacekeeping mandates.
  • UNESCO to ask the International Court of Justice for an opinion on the nature of war crimes related to heritage destruction in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region.
For the art market, the Task Force calls on:
  • Museums, dealers, and auction houses to commit to greater transparency and to make public proof of legal title and known ownership history for any antiquities.
  • Publicly funded museums to adopt disclosure policies in the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act.
  • An art dealers’ trade organization to establish a registry of approved antiquities dealers who are verified to abide by prescribed ethical codes and industry best practices.
  • Stolen art database services to cease certifying antiquities as not registered as stolen, as looted artifacts cannot be so verified. 
 The full report is available for download here. (PDF)

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