Wednesday 14 May 2014

My CPAC Comment

The deadline just snuck up on me, but I got a comment in - and I'm quite pleased with it for two reasons. Firstly its one of the few comments in the whole docket that actually mentions (OK, in passing) the four/five elements people are actually asked to address (most of the coineys are wayyyy off topic), and - a first - I was actually under the character limit. Not normally known for brevity, I found I could add words to my initial draft rather than ponder where to shorten it (and there are still 300 characters to go).

Gentle reader - you still have a few hours (to 23:59pm, 14th May over-there time) to send a comment, please do, especially if you are a white hat person who hates antiquity smuggling, let it be forty words, let it be "please stop smuggling", but why not send something to show you care? Here's what I wrote:
As an archaeologist who has worked in Egypt, and in light of the increasing international concern about the smuggling of illicit antiquities and the plundering of the ancient world’s archaeological sites to feed voracious foreign markets, I support the signing of an MOU regulating the correct documentation of imports of antiquities from Egypt into the USA.

Even a cursory glance at the website of US dealers (and the number of US-based dealers all sending anti-MOU comments here) shows the scale of US involvement in the trade in Egyptian artefacts. Many other countries long ago implemented import controls on Egyptian antiquities (for example an MOU with Switzerland in April 2010) and have actively prosecuted smugglers (The Kingsbury case in the UK just recently). I am sure many responsible US collectors will welcome cleaning up the antiquities market by closer controls of what is entering the country.

Our times are ones of rapid political change which present us with new challenges to be met in the field of international relations. In the case of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’, the recent overthrow of the police state of the Mubarak regime has been followed in Egypt by a period of political instability, and one of the many victims of this has been the security of archaeological sites in the country. My own observations (documented on my blog) suggest that, on the whole, this has been a relatively recent phenomenon, beginning in January 2011.

Several US organizations are already (with DoS support) involved in attempting to help combat the problems this has caused. The documentation they provide to international public opinion show that the dangers are real and urgently need fixing through the efforts of us all. It is very much within the general interests of both the US and the international community that the US continue to take a stand against antiquity smuggling and the illicit trade, and intensifies efforts to cut the demand-led networks of supply.

Egypt long ago adopted legal and organizational measures consistent with the 1970 UNESCO Convention to combat the trade in illicit antiquities and their clandestine removal from the country. These measures are still in effect, despite all the logistic problems faced by my colleagues in Egypt, attempting to continue to function normally under the current very difficult political, social and economic conditions. The international press continues to inform us of a series of arrests of looters, and a number of recent actions which have succeeded in thwarting attempts to smuggle antiquities, including those apparently in connection with foreign players. In the current situation, it is clearly unreasonable to expect the staff of the Egyptian conservation services to go it alone (as some unsympathetic public comments here do). The world’s heritage needs all of us to join in helping to protect it. The world’s eyes are on all of our efforts to do so. They are on this committee, the effectiveness of the current US legislation and US attitudes to the trade in ancient antiquities from all States Party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

As an aside, on reading the 120 comments previously submitted on this matter on this webpage, it is clear that the vast majority of them are coming from the same milieu (almost exclusively from collectors of and dealers in dugup ancient coins), and the degree of utter misunderstanding of the nature and purpose of the regulations applied by the CCPIA (and the purpose of the Convention itself) seen in them is striking. It would be helpful if the CPAC’s report on its deliberations could remark upon this, and urge that funding be found to fulfil the recommendations of part of Article 10 of the Convention to provide outreach to the US public and the US ancient-coin-collecting milieu in particular, aiming to educate and inform them better to lead to a fuller “realization of the value of cultural property”, what it is and how it is defined “and the threat to the cultural heritage created by theft, clandestine excavations and illicit exports”. This should outline for them how the measures proposed by the 1970 Convention and the legislative implementation of those proposals by the US are intended to function to combat that threat, and why responsible collectors should be supporting them and not merely parroting the words of those who profit from this trade.

A public debate on the heritage is to be welcomed, but surely only has sense if the public taking part in it is adequately informed, and the discussion is not unfairly dominated, as one feels it has been here, by a vociferous and comparatively well-organized misinformation campaign by a single commercially-motivated interest group. Thank you.
The last bit's a bit pointless, because the USA does not recognize that the Convention they signed HAS a tenth article, and so the CPAC cannot therefore tell Congress that it should be implemented. But I felt it needed saying.

What the CPAC experts watching in particular the coiney farce unfold really should be telling Congress and everybody else (but they will not, because that's not in their remit either) is that the CCPIA is a pathetic anachronism and should be rewritten to ACTUALLY implement the Convention, and not just highly selectively. But while its all we have, let's see it used to at least put a dent in the ambitions of no-questions-asked dealers and their equally unconcerned empty-headed and self-centred collector clients too thick to look up 19 USC 2602 themselves and thus reliant on their parroted "justifications" for doing nothing about what's going on.


Nathan Elkins said...

You don't have to use just the dialog box for comments. One can also attach a letter in a pdf or Word document, or can send materials by post, although it's too late now for anyone who'd prefer that last option.

Paul Barford said...

Thanks. I spent this morning reading all the previous comments, and not all of the attachments opened, leaving it a total mystery what the person wanted to say. Maybe it's my computer or maybe its the DoS server, who knows.

Nathan Elkins said...

They all worked for me yesterday. It's probably a temporary glitch.

Paul Barford said...

Or maybe my eyes... Tompa's long pdf burnt them out...

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