Sunday, July 26, 2009

Nancy Wilkie on the Composition and Operation of CPAC

At the IFAR Panel (see below at, Nancy Wilkie spoke about the composition and operation of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC). Prof. Wilkie is the William H. Laird Professor of Classics, Anthropology and the Liberal Arts, Carlton College. She is a past president of the AIA and has served on CPAC since 2003.

Professor Wilkie first described CPAC's composition as being made up of two members representing the interests of museums, three members expert in archaeology, ethnology or related fields, three members expert in the international sale of cultural property, and three members representing the interests of the general public. Professor Wilkie noted that if any ambiguity exists, it is in the diverse viewpoints of those representing the interests of the public over time.

How does one get appointed? Political contacts certainly help. Once appointed, prospective members must pass security checks and are prohibited from taking part in partisan political activities.

Members of the Committee must recuse themselves from any matters under consideration by the Committee that would have a "direct and predictable effect" on their financial interests "unless [they] first obtain a written waiver." Professor Wilkie reports that dealers have been able to secure such waivers when CPAC was considering import restrictions on categories of artifacts within their areas of expertise. [This evidently is a new development. Chinese Art Expert James Lally resigned from the Committee after he was told he could not participate in discussions related to Chinese art. In contrast, the State Department refused to recuse an archaeologist from voting on a request by the Republic of Cyprus even though that archaeologist needed to secure excavation permits from the very same Cypriot Department of Antiquities that was responsible for the Cypriot request.]

CPAC convenes in response to requests made through diplomatic channels from any of the State Parties to the 1970 UNESCO Convention. CPAC meets to discuss requests for Memorandums of Understanding (MOU's) with State Parties and also makes recommendations with respect to "emergency actions." The Committee also reviews MOU's about halfway through the five- year period the MOU is in effect.

Professor Wilkie also noted that "Information about the foreign government's request is transmitted to the Committee by the State Department. The Committee may review additional documentation not contained in the request and it may hold public hearings." The Committee reviews written comments and hears oral presentations from interested parties. The State Department has limited the oral presentations to five-minutes, but the time may be extended by questions. After the Committee reviews this information, it recommends a course of action to the State Department, which as been delegated decision-making responsibilities by the President.

In the question and answer period, Prof. Wilkie made the following point about appointments,

"The White House personnel office decides how CPAC appointments are made. In my case, there was no doubt that I would be appointed to the archaeological slot [presumably because of Prof. Wilkie's position as past AIA president]. But it is up to the personnel office of the White House to make the recommendation to the President, who in theory, makes the appointments. When people complain to me that the composition is unbalanced or that someone who is a representative of the public should be in a different slot, I say, 'Don't complain to me, nor can you complain to the State Department. You need to complain to the White House because they make the appointments.'" [While this is technically true, collectors suspect that the White House lets the State Department vet candidates, ensuring that candidates deemed "unacceptable" to archaeological interests are unlikely to ever be selected.]

Professor Wilkie also discussed Committee secrecy. Citing legislative history, she maintained that if information became public, it might compromise the ability of the President to negotiate agreements. [In response, then Chair Kislak stated, "I doubt that Nancy. I can't imagine that. The countries are coming to us and asking for a favor. How on earth can transparency affect that?"]

Finally, Professor Wilkie acknowledged the difficulty the Committee faces in accessing the efficacy of agreements. She stated,

"This is part of our review of the request for the MOU or interim review of agreements. Is the country taking actions to try to stem the looting of antiquities? A lot of this is very difficult to document, even in this country. It's very hard to know where the looted sites are. If you think about Central America, the looting takes place in the jungle, which people can only get to once or twice a year because of the weather or political situations. But it is a question we always ask."

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