Sunday, 4 August 2013

St Hilaire on the Inadequacy of US Heritage Protection Laws

Rick St Hilaire comments on National Geographic's "Who's Stealing Afghanistan's Cultural Treasures?" (August 1, 2013) by considering what can be done under US legislation "if stolen archaeological treasures from Afghanistan cross into the United States". "If", or "when"? Some NSPA (and ARPA) bla-bla, because neither of those pieces of legislation was written with this problem in mind (what we are talking about is neither "property" like a car, diamond bracelet or stolen computer, nor is it part of the US archaeological resource), then this:  
 Afghanistan ratified the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property in 2005, but the country has yet to ask for a bilateral agreement with the U.S. that would trigger the CPIA's import protections. And recall that emergency import restrictions envisioned by the Cultural Conservation of the Crossroads of Civilization Actdied in congress several years ago.
This is scandalous, what this means is the USA, having become a state party of the Convention is actually holding off from implementing any measures related to it unless specifically asked individually from each other state party (and then it will only do so temporarily). Basically that means the USA fails to honour its obligations related to that convention 92% of the time (c. 196 countries in the world, 15 current MOUs). Let us also recall the very aggressive lobbying of the US dugup antiquities dealers to prevent the Afghanistan legislation ever being passed. They apparently wanted to protect the flow of illegally excavated and smuggled items of Afghan origins onto the US antiquity market. After all, can't have people asking questions about all that Bactrian and Gandharan stuff surfacing anonymously on the market can they? 

So, what actually are the Americans doing about changing the US legislation so it actually could give some possibility of combating looting and smuggling of artefacts, at least  from territories which they themselves invaded, like Afghanistan? (What about the US "implementation" of Article 11 of the 1970 Convention for example?). Has the AIA got a committee actively drafting new laws, and actively lobbying to get some support for them? What other groups has it got involved in the process, and what is the progress? Or are they lobbying for the USA to withdraw from a Convention while it has no possibility (or, in fact, intent) to implement it properly, in line with the actual spirit and intent of the document?  Or are they, in fact, doing nothing much at all about this?
Rick St Hilaire, 'Afghanistan's Looted History and U.S. Law', Cultural Heritage Lawyer, August 4, 2013.

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