Monday, April 9, 2012

Mali MOU Renewal Overtaken By Events?

With one exception, no MOU restricting imports of cultural goods has ever been allowed to expire.

Yet, the assumption behind MOU's -- that the US should help State Parties to the UNESCO Convention control cultural goods found within their borders because nation states are the best protectors of their own cultural patrimony-- has been sorely tested, first by the economic meltdowns in Greece and Italy, and now even more clearly by the descent of Mali into chaos.

A recent military coup and the take over of important cultural sites like Timbuktu by well armed Islamic rebels again raises fundamental questions about whether the State Department and its allies in the archaeological community are really furthering the protection of cultural artifacts or whether their knee-jerk repatriationism does more harm than good.

For more on the situation in Mali, see

To read the arguments for renewing the MOU wiht Mali, see!docketDetail;dct=O%252BSR%252BPS;rpp=25;po=0;D=DOS-2012-0012

On April 24, 2012, CPAC will conduct a public hearing that will discuss the proposed renewal of the MOU with Mali.


Voz Earl said...

The repatriation of objects to Mali would put a whole new spin on the phrase: "From here to Timbuktu."

Voz Earl

Paul Barford said...

"the assumption behind MOU's (sic) [...] because nation states are the best protectors of their own cultural patrimony-- has been sorely tested, "

That is not the principle behind CCPIA ("the MOUs"), but behind the Convention itself.

Why is the coin dealer lobby not - on the basis of their own logic - saying straight out that they think that the US should withdraw from the 1970 UNESCO Convention? If its implementation is to be so severely limited that it means nothing, why not?

Voz Earl said...

Having read through the comments of those in favor of extending the MOU, I am struck by the contradictory nature of their claims: on the one hand they universally laud the supposed effectiveness of the restrictions, while at the same time a local is quoted as saying that they are unable to stop the looters who are transporting the goods to market in EUROPE.

One comes away with the distinct impression that most of the commentators have no clue one way or the other what on-the-ground effect if any the restrictions have actually had. It seems most likely that all these unilateral restrictions succeed in doing is diverting the loot from one market to another. Meanwhile, Americans are unfairly hamstrung in their efforts to obtain or even borrow legitimate material (as is clear from the comments of those affiliated with museums).

Voz Earl

Cultural Property Observer said...

Voz, thank you. Yes, hearing every five years that import restrictions are necessary, but there is still extensive looting wears very thin to everyone but those with a vested interest in keeping cultural bureacrats in source countries happy.

It would be interesting to have some data on whether the pain to collectors, museums and small businesses is worth any gain to the real protection of cultural patrimony.