Saturday 8 August 2015

Due Diligence and 'Can't-Touch-You-For-it-Legitimacy'?

Collecting can play a constructive role in the stewardship of legally acquired and suitably documented artifacts. But in today's conflict-ridden environments in Syria and Iraq, guarding against criminal trafficking and the facilitation of terrorist financing is a heightened concern, which should prompt collectors to effectuate appropriate safeguards. "Don't buy" is the best protective measure, while strict due diligence remains a secondary, yet imperfect, line of defense for those willing to assume the risks in the traditionally opaque marketplace.
Many dealers and private collectors however remain opposed to placing emphasis on the importance of documents outlining collecting history and legal status of dugup antiquities. One dealer recently has said that such calls reflect "total ignorance of how such businesses actually operate, and of the realities of the markets that they serve". We see droves of collectors signing up to a petition opposed to new standards of due diligence proposed for German collectors. Not all collectors however take such a blatantly Philistine and careless approach, as St Hilaire observes:
Given the totality of data uncovered over the last several years linking trafficked heritage with terrorism, war, and money laundering, the largest community of collectors - museums - have taken steps to warn the public about the proliferation of the black trade. The International Council of Museums (ICOM) in September 2013 published a Red List spotlighting Syrian cultural objects at risk of plunder, and just last month the organization distributed a refreshed Red List covering Iraqi artifacts. 
Other collectors can do their part in helping to clean up the market:
Curbing consumer demand at the present time would have the added benefit of sending a message to suppliers that even the slightest hint of conflict-related commodities will not be tolerated in the legitimate stream of commerce. Collectors determined to remain in the market, meanwhile, should employ a strict due diligence strategy to sharply limit the chances of acquiring possible contraband or facilitating money laundering.
St Hilaire points out one suggested due diligence guideline, authored by individual collectors and presented to the pro-collecting Ancient Artifacts forum in March 2009, the Code of Ethics for Collectors of Ancient Artifacts. This however is apparently no longer in use by that forum, to judge from the broken link. What part does actual due diligence and objective demonstration of licitness play in the international antiquities market as opposed to 'optical due diligence' or 'lightly assumed innocence' - and 'they-can't-touch-you-for-it-legitimacy'?

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