Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Legal Trade to Continue under HR 1493?

The House of Representatives has passed HR 1493 with some modifications that don't go anywhere near far enough to address the concerns raised about the legislation by the Committee for Cultural Policy and other groups.

The new bureaucracy created in the State Department will lack transparency.   Any "coordination" efforts will again ignore the concerns of collectors and the small businesses of the numismatic and antiquities trade.  Instead, the same insiders associated with the archaeological lobby who already dominate things will again be given free reign to help call the shots.

As for the "emergency" Syrian restrictions that are authorized in the legislation, the new "sunset" provision appears to be little more than an invitation for emergency restrictions to be a bridge to permanent ones.  The much needed provision for temporary imports of at risk Syrian cultural artifacts requires so many bureaucratic findings that it will likely never be used to save much from destruction at the hands of ISIS or Assad for that matter.  Indeed, nothing in this legislation precludes the State Department and US Customs from ultimately repatriating artifacts to the same odious Assad regime that has already engaged in looting in places like Apamea and Palmyra and which has bombed important cultural sites into dust.  That. of course, may be just fine with at least some in the archaeological lobby which generally has been unwilling to criticize the Assad regime despite its looting and destruction of Syrian cultural property. 

On the bright side, before the bill was voted on in the House, Representatives Chabot and Engel both emphasized that the legislation was not meant to target the lawful trade in Syrian artifacts and only authorizes import restrictions on artifacts illegally removed from Syria after the start of its civil war.

However, assuming HR 1493 becomes law, it remains to be seen whether the State Department and Customs and Border Protection will follow this bipartisan Congressional direction or revert back to their standard operating procedure: Create as broad a designated list of items with a "country of origin" (manufacture) of Syria as is possible and then assume that anything of a similar "type" is illicit unless proven otherwise.   Of course, this kind of "guilty" until "proven innocent" mentality may be contrary to the plain meaning of the Cultural Property Implementation Act, 19 USC Sections 2601, 2604 and 2610 as well as our great Anglo-American legal traditions, but it is quite in keeping with the "ends justifies the means" attitude of the State Department's Cultural Heritage Center, CBP and the "archaeological lobby," all of which already "coordinate" quite well with or without this legislation.

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