Monday, 10 July 2017

My Libyan CPAC comment

Although I am totally against the US applying a discriminatory approach to the 1970 UNESCO Convention , I decided to  produce a comment to set alongside the coiney ones opposing any form of control over illicit artefacts on the US market. Here it is:
As an archaeologist with a special interest in the issues surrounding the collection of and trade in archaeological artefacts, I would like to suggest a few topics for the consideration of the CPAC in connection with the request for help in stopping the illicit trade of artefacts from Libya. 
Since the outbreak of the civil war in Libya in 2014, there has been increasing pressure on the cultural patrimony of the country and from pillage of archaeological material. Just a few weeks ago, it was reported that government forces discovered a stockpiled cache of looted artefacts in a location abandoned by fighters with ‘Daesh’ affiliations. Material of types known to occur in the Libyan archaeological record, apparently freshly surfaced, is turning up right now on eBay and in venues such as the US-based V-Coins portal. 
It is in the unstable situation caused by the war that the cultural heritage is at most jeopardy and requires care to keep freshly smuggled illicit artefacts off the major markets – of which the US market is undoubtedly among the most voracious. It is telling how many US dealers and collectors of dugup antiquities time and time again attempt to oppose any attempt under the CCPIA to keep such material off the US market. 
Already well before the present War, Libya took measures consistent with the Convention to protect its cultural patrimony, most notably in the maintenance of a state body, the Libyan Department of Antiquities tasked with this care. This is still functioning under the present straitened circumstances and deserves all the help we can give it to achieve this task. The reported involvement of local communities in the protection of the heritage is also indicative of the importance it holds to many citizens. 
ICOM, in collaboration with the US Department of State has recently released the Emergency Red List of Libyan Cultural Objects at Risk in recognition of the importance of keeping track on cultural items crossing international borders. Most other countries which are party to the 1970 UNESCO ‘Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property’ apply it to the cultural property of all other member states without discrimination, the Convention is after all intended to foster international collaboration and ‘build peace in the minds of men’. The US is one of the few countries that apply it selectively, on a country-by-country basis, dividing international partners into ‘better’ and ‘worse’. If the US applies restrictions on imports of artefacts exported from Libya to only those properly documented, it would only be joining the rest of the international community in implementing the Convention. The US, surely, should be a leader in such a concerted effort, not a reluctant tagalong – especially given the size and nature of the no-questions-asked US antiquities market and the appetites of those involved in it. 
Doing all possible to prevent illicit material passing onto any major market is obviously going to be of substantial benefit in deterring the development of a serious situation of pillage in these times of enormous social dislocation in Libya. There is no need to see anything ‘drastic’ about keeping illicit artefacts (or those not complying with the liberal measures of the CCPIA) off the US market. On the contrary. 
Quite clearly, and in particular in the current situation, the restriction of antiquities originating in Libya through applying the measures of the CCPIA is not only completely consistent with, but also imperative in, the general interest of the international community in the interchange of cultural property among nations for cultural, scientific and educational purposes.
I was going to write more, but there was a protest mach in my city on the 10th at which I wanted to be. I restricted my comments to those four determinations which the CCPIA defines - which most coin fondlers and blondie antiquities dealers (who have probably never even read its text) simply fail to address in their comments. More on the vacant dealers' spokesperson tomorrow.

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