Wednesday 20 April 2011

Iraq Seeks International Treaty Protecting Archaeological Artefacts

Iraq is reportedly seeking a new international agreement protecting antiquities as a response to the ongoing looting of saleable antiquities from archaeological sites there (Radio Free Europe, 'Iraq Seeks International Treaty Protecting Antique Artifacts', April 20th 2011).
Iraq wants to conclude a new international agreement that will designate the dealing of antique Iraqi artifacts a crime, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reports. Iraqi officials said the goal is to preserve the country's heritage from thieves and smugglers. Baha al-Mayyah, an adviser at the Iraqi Tourism and Historic Monuments Ministry, told RFE/RL on April 18 that "Archaeological sites are still in danger of being looted and are subject to illegal excavations in many places." He said "the government is working on the possibility of concluding new international agreements that will designate dealing in ancient Iraqi artifacts a crime." [...] Al-Mayyah criticized the international community for not doing enough to deter smugglers and looters. He said Iraq wants to abolish the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property [...] Iraq plans to convene an international conference at the end of this year in Baghdad to discuss the creation of a new international organization. "Its task would be to push for the cancellation or the amendment of the 1970 convention," al-Mayyah said. "It would have as members all the countries of the world that are facing problems with the looting and smuggling of their heritage."
This would be a very interesting move. It is quite clear that a convention discussed and written in the late 1960s cannot possibly be applied to the changed antiquities market (especially in its dominating no-questions-asked variant) that has developed since the mid 1970s and then was again completely transformed in the mid 1990s by internet trading. It is totally inadequate to the task. This is quite apart from the fact that the US, one of the largest potential markets for illicitly acquired, and exported dugup antiquities refuses to implement it properly but only in a form which is a "compromise" with their own huge and lucrative no-questions-asked antiquities trade. The time for new agreements and standards on the international trade of this sort of material was yesterday. Whether or not US antiquity dealers want it or not, it's time to do some serious thinking about this problem while there is still some of the archaeological resource in the ground left to save from commercial looting.

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