Congressional Quarterly, a periodical widely read on Capitol Hill, has reported on the recent CPRI forum that explored whether the Cultural Property Implementation Act is working as intended. Hopefully, someone in authority at the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs is aware of the serious problems that have been described and will take corrective action.
An Artifactual Dispute
By Shawn Zeller, CQ Staff
When Congress passed legislation nearly three decades ago to help prevent the looting of cultural «artifacts» around the world, it took pains to reach a compromise between archeologists fearful of the destruction of «artifacts» and collectors eager to buy them.
A key element in the deal was a Cultural Property Advisory Committee, which makes recommendations to the «State» Department on rules for the import and export of «artifacts» — rules that «State» can include in agreements with other countries.
Now the deal is in danger of breaking down. Late last month, some former members of the committee said they think the panel is siding too closely with archeologists and has cost museums and collectors the chance to acquire treasures. In fact, committee member Robert B. Korver, a Texas rare-«coin» dealer appointed by President George W. Bush, quit the panel to protest rules the Obama administration had adopted to restrict imports of ancient Roman «coins» from Italy.
Instead of a balance of interest on the committee, Korver wrote Obama, the wishes of members like him are routinely overruled “by the advocacy and directives of staff bureaucrats operating under a carefully defended veil of secrecy.”
Meanwhile, some former committee members spoke out at an event on Capitol Hill held by the Cultural Policy Research Institute, a Santa Fe, N.M.-based group representing people involved in the «artifacts» trade. Jay I. Kislak, another Bush appointee, said the committee was “useless.”
Kislak, who chaired the committee for five years, is an art collector who donated 4,000 books, maps, paintings and «artifacts» related to the history of the Americas to the Library of Congress in 2005.
James Fitzpatrick, a lawyer with the firm Arnold & Porter who has represented art dealers, says that although the rules are designed to conform with a 1970 U.N. convention on cultural «artifacts», U.S. implementation of the convention is stricter than other countries’ and allows the market for «artifacts» to shift overseas.
The State Department declined to comment, but it’s clear archeologists on the committee disagree with the criticism. Nancy Wilkie, an archeology professor at Carleton College in Minnesota who’s been on the panel since 2003, says it has done a commendable job of eliminating incentives for looters to raid archeological sites.