Sunday, January 29, 2012

ICOM "Red List" to Pave the Way for New Restrictions on Egyptian Cultural Goods?

In the US, Congress has established the following process for imposing import restrictions: (1) a State Party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention requests US assistance; (2) the request is vetted by the US Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) as to whether it meets the statutory requirements generally and for what artifacts specifically; (3) the President's Designee in the State Department considers CPAC's recommendations in making her own findings whether the statutory criteria are met: (4) if the statutory criteria are met, US Customs restricts entry of certain artifacts that meet the statutory criteria.

Unfortunately, a new extra-legal model has emerged that appears to have been perfected under the Obama Administration either through inattention by political appointees or by design: (1) Archaeologists intone that looting (real or imagined) justifies a clamp down on another collecting area; (2) their allies in the State Department Cultural Heritage Center issue a sole source contract to a NGO associated with the extreme archaeological view to prepare a list of artifacts that supposedly can be assumed to be "stolen" unless proven otherwise; (3) Archaeologists lobby the modern foreign government that sits on the land where these artifacts can be found to ask the US to impose import restrictions; (4) CPAC (which is now populated almost exclusively by those sympathetic to the extreme archaeological view) and the President's Designee in the State Department go through the motions of considering a request, but ignore all the statutory criteria in order to "get there"; and (5) artifacts are restricted based on the "Red List" prepared by the NGO associated with the extreme archaeological view.

It is quite possible that the process has already begun for imposing new restrictions on Egyptian cultural artifacts.

1. During unrest during the Egyptian revolution, there apparently was some looting, though the extent does not seem to be very extensive.

2. Archaeologists have argued this justifies a clamp down on collectors of Egyptian artifacts.

3. The State Department issued a sole source contract (See to ICOM for the creation of a "Red List." See also, (noting that the Cultural Heritage Center funds Red Lists as a "special project.")

4. ICOM has now completed its work. See Note, according to ICOM: " Any cultural object that could have originated in Egypt should be subjected to detailed scrutiny and precautionary measures."

5. Although the State Department has indicated that former Egyptian Cultural Heritage Pharaoh Zahi Hawass' claim that a MOU was in the offing actually related to an agreement with US Customs, that does not foreclose the possibility that the process for imposing new import restrictions on Egyptian cultural goods has already commenced with the production of this "Red List." See

Only time will tell.


Paul Barford said...

No, it is less complicated than that:

One, become state party to 1970 UNESCO Convention,

Two, apply Article 3 of said convention with sincerity.

The USA and Egypt are both states parties to the convention are they not?

Cultural Property Observer said...

You should know better. The UNESCO Convention is not self executing. Here are the steps that need to be followed before the US imposes restrictions:

Paul Barford said...


Tell me,a nation, such as the US, becomes a state party of a convention that says:

"Article 3
The import, export or transfer of ownership of elephant ivory walking stick knobs effected contrary to the provisions adopted under this Convention by the States Parties thereto, shall be illicit".

That means - given the US has other legislation such as that which dealers' lobbyists so carefully shield coin collectors from finding out about - one can, or one cannot licitly import, export or transfer ownership of such items contrary to the provisions of the Convention?

Why bother signing it if you do not agree with the fundamental principles on which it is based?

It seems to me - and I am sure you will correct me if you disagree - that the 1970 UNESCO Convention assumes that a nation becoming a state party has certain legislation in place already ("consistent with national legislation" for example in art 7).

So, how do you interpret the parallel wording to Art. 3 in Art. 11? That it only becomes illicit when the occupying nation itself passes a law stating that? How many times has the US done that (and was that before or after the military intervention)? Or does "regarded as illicit" mean that in the light of the Convention, it simply is and signatories of the Convention are expected to be in agreement with that principle? (And IS the US?)

As I say, becoming a state party to the Convention means applying Art. 3 with sincerity. IS the USA sincere in its application of the 1970 UNESCO Convention? Is it? Are the dealers and collectors of the USA ("passionately interested in the past and deplore looting") 100% behind it too?