Thursday, March 31, 2011
Cultural Property and Antiquities Must Be Protected
Two Georgetown Law students have written this opinion piece for Georgetown Law Weekly. See http://www.gulawweekly.org/opinions/2011/3/29/cultural-property-and-antiquities-must-be-protected.html They state, Every time we turn on the news, members of Congress are railing about wasteful federal spending and the dire need to curb ineffective programs. Yet Monday, at a public meeting on the Hill about one of the most ineffective, and potentially illegal, federally-funded committees, not one Congressman, staff member, or reporter was present. [Note, there were at least two Congressional staff members present, but most of the audience were students of the field of cultural property law.] The Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) was established in 1983 by the Cultural Property Implementation Act to advise the Department of State on which art and artifacts should be restricted on import due to looting. The goal was to reduce looting of art and archaeological sites by cutting off the U.S. market, in accordance with a 1970 international treaty. CPIA was meant to transcend activism to strike a balance between the free trade in antiquities and ethical preservation of the world’s cultural heritage. But since its enactment, CPAC has been horrifically derailed. CPAC board members are archaeologists, historians, and other experts who understand the value of cultural heritage and are clearly interested in the United States’ ethical treatment of international cultural property. It is a sorry and sour comment on the Department of State when CPAC’s own members, so dedicated to its mission, resign and call for the committee’s dissolution. Several former committee members, including a member who resigned just 21 days ago, told horror stories of inefficiency, secrecy, and outright illegality. For example, a former Chairman recalled a member sleeping through meetings, the Department of State blatantly ignoring CPAC’s votes and recommendations, and being denied access to the Committee’s own research and documents. As a result, the Department of State creates over inclusive trade restrictions that deny acquisitions to U.S. collectors and museums. Those works of art and archaeological artifacts, many with immeasurable monetary and educational value, simply go elsewhere, often to European markets with more precise but less restrictive import bans. The net effect? Turning away major investments during a recession, while wasting government money on a committee the Department of State ignores anyway. It may not be a “sexy” issue like health care or gay marriage, but protecting art and cultural property is an important goal, especially in light of the recent spread of armed conflict in some of the world’s most archaeologically rich Middle East regions. CPAC protects nothing but the Department of State’s unethical acts. Deborah Newburg, 2L, is a staff writer for the Law Weekly. Amanda Blunt, 2L, is a guest writer for the Law Weekly. Both are members of Students Against Looting Valuable Antiquities (SALVAGE).