Friday, 3 December 2021

STOP Act Passes US House of Representatives


SAA Press Release: "US House of Representatives Passes STOP Act " Dec 03, 2021.
Last night, the US House of Representatives passed H.R. 2930, the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act of 2021 (STOP Act)[...]. This represents a major step forward in enacting this badly needed legislation, which would allow the United States to take effective steps to halt overseas auctions of illicitly procured tribal objects of cultural patrimony, and encourage the voluntary return of such items to their rightful owners.

Currently, the U.S. government and Native American tribes have been disadvantaged in trying to halt sales of illicitly-procured tribal cultural patrimony in overseas auctions because U.S. law does not have a specific prohibition against the export of looted tribal objects or an associated export certification system. The measure creates an explicit prohibition on the export of Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) cultural items and Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA) archaeological resources whose trafficking is prohibited domestically under existing federal law. The STOP Act will make it possible for tribes to access other countries’ law enforcement mechanisms to regain their stolen property under an existing international treaty to which the United States is a signatory.
So, basically, bringing the US cultural preservation system to where most other countries have been for a very long time. Yet, it is the USA that has a 1980s law in place that restricts the application of that very same "existing international treaty (sic)" to material illicitly removed from about a dozen specifically selected countries (and the rest are largely ignored). To crown it all, the US insists on basing that selection on a colonialist notion of "how well" those countries in the eyes and measure of the USA have been doing preserving the cultural heritage on their own sovereign territory, as if it were any of their business.* Yet the USA has been and is far from any kind of model in that regard. As far as human rights are concerned, maybe in teh 2020s they could scrap the legal and any other distinction between "NAGPRA cultural property" and "ARPA cultural property" and just treat it all as the archaeological and cuiultural heritage of the entire territory of the USA. Because that is what it is, whether the human communities it represents were black, white, red, yellow or green. We are nearly there—the finish line is in sight. The law still has to pass through the Senate, and so more activism is still planned. Probably the US dealers involved in profit-making from the currently unrestricted trade of these items will also be lobbying.


*The reasoning behind those moves is that if the "brown-skinned foreigners" are not unilaterally deemed by a Committee in Washington to be doing enough to protect their cultural heritage from the looters and smugglers, the USA need not bother, let US collectors just grab as much as they can too. That rather negates the whole sense of the existence of the 1970 UNESCO Convention, which is to prevent such imbalances being the source of resentment between states party.

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