Tuesday 27 February 2024

Lost Somewhere Along the Silk Roads

Idanthyrsus is the name of somebody writing on social media on cultural property protection ("Late Antiquity and Silk Road art history obsessive, Cultural heritage law"). The name is that of a Scythian king who (according to Herodotus IV, 127) threatened the Persian king that if he interefered with the ancestors;' graves, he would face retribution. So I was a bit puzzled by a reference they made on Twitter 

Reminder that the US gov't renewed a MOU on cultural heritage with the Chinese gov't last month in blatant contradiction to the statutory requirements of the CCPIA. @HeritageAtState, #CPACommittee and organizations like @CombatLooting that supported the renewal should be ashamed.
As far as I know, there were no procedural irregularities in that renewal under the US's wobbly old 1980s Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CCPIA). So I asked in what way renewal of existing measures had been "in blatant contradiction to the statutory requirements of the CCPIA". I really should not have. I get lectured:
A State Party engaged in the intentional destruction of cultural heritage (a crime against humanity), in this case Uyghur heritage (as recognized by the very same State Dept. as part of a genocide) can in no way be found to have met the requirement under Section 303(a)(1)(B).

From the inadequacies of the Act's wording, it seems the CCPIA was written by a team that possibly included several typing chimpanzees, but that is no excuse for Idanthyrsus not knowing what is what.

What does CCPIA "implement"? Well, despite its name, it does NOT implement the whole 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. It implements ONLY its Article 9 (see CCPIA section 303). Article nine of what? Article nine of a Convention that ONLY covers "the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property" (and that's the preventing of it). This is NOT the World Heritage Covention, Venice Charter, Intangible Heritage or any of the others that cover all that whatnot. It is a convention that regulates the movement of PORTABLE antiquities and the like. ONLY. So Article nine  refers to the prevention of the removal of portable objects.

By the same token, the US instrument that imnplements article nine of this Convention is obviously also restricted to portable antiquities. But only within the framework of the 1970 Convention. It is worth reminding colleagues, many of whom it seems rarely read the entire document, that the 1970 Convention above all upholds (Art. 1) the right of each state party to define for itself what is and what is not its cultural property ("property which [...] is specifically designated by each State as being of importance for [....] and which belongs to the following categories"). It DOES NOT have any measure for somebody outside to do that for them, impose their own ideas, or to choose to ignore what the sovereign state has established. That is the whole point of the document!  (What else could it be?)

So, despite the typing chimpanzees not spelling it out for a later dumbdown generation in the 2020s the "measures consistent with the Convention to protect its cultural heritage" are not referring to Uighur and Tibetan or whatever built heritage, intangible heritage or any such thing. The CCPIA asks whether the state party has taken steps to avoid the  "the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property" or reduce "jeopardy from pillage of archaeological or ethnological materials" (well, yes, rather drastic ones are already in place in China - includiung the death penalty). And that is the entire scope of any mandate created by the US CCPIA for the US as an outside partner to enquire into the circumstances. It does not, and cannot, challenge Art. 1 - which the US agreed to becoming a state party to the Convention.

We've come across this US "policemean of the World" overeach before. This is the position of the dreadful "Committee for Cultural Policy" which I have called the "Witschonke Premise" after one of the more strident advocates of the position that in cultural heritage management we should all submit to the will and arbitration of an all-powerful USA.

So, pseudonymous Idanthyrsus, the renewal of the China MOU was not (apart from your imagination) "in blatant contradiction to the statutory requirements of the CCPIA". The only thing @HeritageAtState, #CPACommittee and organizations like @CombatLooting "should be ashamed" is that the restrictive CCPIA is still being applied in the US to an issue that for long has requirted the US (one of the biggest markets for antiquities in the world) not applying the 1970 UNESCO Convention in the current fragmentary and partial form, but as a whole. Shame on you, USA.

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