Thursday, 1 March 2018


The Antiquities Coalition have produced an interesting resource: 'Mapping MOUs: An Interactive View Of  [US] Heritage Protections In Action'.
 The looting and trafficking of cultural property is a threat in countries the world over, and particularly in nations facing crisis and conflict. With the U.S. serving as the world’s largest market for art and antiquities, many illicit artifacts are destined for this burgeoning market. But the United States can help mitigate this threat by enacting bilateral cultural agreements to stop illicit artifacts from making their way onto American shores. Bilateral agreements, or memoranda of understanding (MOUs), between demand (“market”) countries and supply (“source”) countries are an effective tool in discouraging the illicit trade in antiquities. This is especially important for countries whose cultural heritage is at risk (or may soon be at risk) from armed conflict or violent extremist organizations.
The cultural property crisis with 'rampant industrialized looting, conflict, and trafficking by extremist groups' in the MENA region is blamed on  'the Arab Spring in 2011' )in Iraq it was actually due to something else and began well before 2011). Also it cannot be stressed enough that the 1970 UNESCO Convention, the selective 'implementation' of which the 17 MOUs are part is in no way a measure against looting. Also the Convention is supposed to protect the heritage of all states party to the document, not those that each of them may select (or deselect) from the list. So the 'Coalition'  points out proudly that
'in November 2016, Egypt became the first Arab nation to sign a bilateral cultural agreement with the United States.Just over a year later, in February 2018, Libya became the second.'
Global heritage is protected by the Convention, not just that of Whites, Reds and Yellows, Arabs Jews and/or Hindus.  That's the Convention, the Americans however treat it differently. The cultural heritage of my countries, the UK and Poland are not protected by these MOUs. There is conflict on going in Donbass and Rohinga land (to name two), but objects looted within it are in no way 'protected' from being smuggled to the greedy US market by any piece of paper. The US select and deselect whose cultural property laws they are going to respect, in most cases, over 170 countries are totally excluded from CCPIA 'protection' by the US... it seems to me that a 10% coverage is next to no protection at all.
 This interactive map provides an overview of the 17 cultural MOUs currently in effect, along with two existing emergency actions in Syria and Iraq. Each highlighted country reveals information on when MOUs began and what archaeological and ethnological material is covered. Play around, interact, and scroll across the map to learn more about what is protected. To learn more visit our page on bilateral cultural agreements.
Yeah, Trump's USA is only 'playing around'. Most of the land surface and territorial waters are blank, not covered by US measures. There are some significant ones, not even neighbouring countries Canada or Mexico are protected by these means from having their archaeological and ethnographic cultural property trafficked across the borders (and there are a lot of unpaperd artefacts of Mexican origin at least on the US market). Neither are areas such as Japan and Korea covered, yet both countries suffered a US occupation during which cultural property (from Occupied Japan in particular) ended up in the hands of US collectors and dealers. Most of Southeast Asia and most of Africa are unprotected.

Oddest of all the US itself is a blank area, where the provisions of the 1970 UNESCO Convention are not 'implemented', and that is the reason why when Native American artefacts coming from the northern part of the American continent are on sale in auction houses in France, Germany or Switzerland (all three countries with which there is no MOU) the US has no legal means of combatting those sales (which they would, if they rendered them liable to export licensing). Even the moral argument falls flat when the US itself does bnot have  legal measure in place (MOU) to render reciprocal aid to those three countries which as far as the US system is concerned, can be pillaged at will.

Personally, I think that the Antiquities Coalition instead of boasting about how good it is that another two countries are added to the US heritage protection shortlist should be heading a forceful campaign to have that protection extended to the world's heritage, and not just to a few select countries from among those that currently happen to enjoy US friendship and public concern.   There should be more public concern about the number of countries that are NOT protected under the atavistic programme instituted by the CCPIA.

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