Tuesday 31 July 2012

Questions About Laredo Seizure

Today Rick St Hilaire lays into US Homeland Security's U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials.  One of their officers at the "World Trade Bridge" on the border with Mexico in Laredo, Texas discovered and seized two ancient Egyptian coffins being imported into the US through Mexico. One was a sarcophagus "with a wooden mask with glass eyes" and the other had "a standing lady of painted stucco over linen' (eh?), and the exporter had labelled the package "Egyptian sculptures".  According to the enthusiastic CBP press release:
CBP on July 9 determined that the artifacts would be seized due to a lack of export documentation to substantiate legal exportation of the artifacts from Egypt. [...]  Proper export documentation from the Egyptian government is required to transport the artifacts out of their country of origin. “This seizure reflects good collaborative work between CBP , import specialists and HSI to ensure enforcement of U.S. law and international conventions protecting cultural property,” said Jose Uribe, CBP Assistant Port Director, Laredo Port of Entry. [...] Egypt is one of the signatories to a 1970 General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. Through the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act, the United States entered into a cultural property agreement with the Egyptian government to help protect archaeological and ethnological materials through import controls.
No mention is found in the press release of any arrests being made and the exporters and importers were not identified. If you Google Earth this border crossing point (27.597291°N 99.537119°W) and look at the shambles it represents, one might wonder just how anything at all gets detected there. What a mess.

St Hilaire however points out  (Egyptian Coffins Successfully Detected and Recovered by Customs in Texas - Question of Proper Seizure Authority Remains): "Meanwhile, the suggested legal authority for seizing the coffins appears questionable". The lack of Egyptian export permits, he states, does not have any meaning whatsoever for the this signatory of the 1970 UNESCO Convention and its Article 3 because "the United States is unable to enforce a foreign nation's export laws [...] The United States and Egypt, however, do not have a bilateral agreement or Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) pursuant to the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA)". I wonder if the importer is reading his blog? In other words the CCPIA  does not actually "implement" the Convention. Instead, in its present form it is is a cynical example of US hypocrisy, exhibiting the derogatory attitudes of its lawmakers and citizens towards the rest of us. St Hilaire even begins to sound like a certain dealers' lobbyist here:
CBP is to be commended for its detection and interdiction of the contraband Egyptian coffins. Yet it is important that the agency accurately cite the proper legal authority for the seizure of the artifacts. That is because the public relies on government officials for guidance in order to remain compliant with federal law and to avoid the potential loss of property
The public buying antiquities which originate in the archaeological record of other countries - if not a strict code of ethics - should surely be basing their decisions on a bit more than CBP press releases - like actually knowing themselves what the relevant laws concerning that activity in fact say.  

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