Monday, October 23, 2017

Global Heritage Alliance Comments on Proposed Renewal of MOU with Cambodia

Here are my comments more or less on behalf of Global Heritage Alliance regarding a proposed renewal of a MOU with Cambodia:

          I am speaking for the Global Heritage Alliance, an advocacy organization representing the interests of collectors, the museums and the trade in cultural artifacts.  I will focus my comments today on the required findings of 19 U.S.C. Section 2606 (b) and (c).  These include the need for self-help measures and the requirement that less onerous alternatives than import restrictions be considered first.
            There have been import restrictions in place on Cambodian cultural artifacts in some form since 1999.   Such import restrictions hurt legitimate collecting here in the United States because they effectively embargo “designated” material legitimately sold abroad. 
            While import restrictions have certainly damaged collecting here in the United States, it is unclear what Cambodia has been doing for all those years to protect its own cultural patrimony, particularly when elements within its own military stand accused of carting off tons of statuary from out of the way temple complexes with the help of government-issue heavy equipment.
            The CPIA has always required a finding that Cambodia has been doing its part to protect its cultural patrimony and that alternatives to embargoes be considered first, but these and other statutory requirements have been glossed over time and again to  provide a “deliverable” for the State Department to serve up to Cambodia’s authoritarian government. 
            Now, however, Congress has determined that such “business as usual” is no longer acceptable.  Recently, Congress added the following directions to CPAC in a report accompanying appropriations of State Department funds:
Cultural Property.--The Cultural Properties Implementation Act (CPIA) requires countries participating in MOUs restricting cultural property take significant self-help measures. The Committee urges the Cultural Property Advisory Committee to consider the annual national expenditures on securing and inventorying cultural sites and museums in its annual reviews of the effectiveness of MOUs, as well as during the reviews required by the CPIA for extension of an MOU. The Committee also requests the Secretary of State review the feasibility of collecting and reporting on the cost of measures taken by partner countries in support of their cultural property MOU with the United States and be prepared to report on such review during the hearing process on the fiscal year 2019 budget request.

House Report 115-253 at 11. 
            Here, although Cambodia has made an astounding $76 million from ticket sales just for the Angkor archaeological park in the first nine months of 2017 alone, it is unclear how much money the Cambodian government (as opposed to foreign donors) spends annually on securing and inventorying cultural sites and museums.   Given Congress’ direction, CPAC should ascertain this information from the Cambodian government and allow it to help guide its deliberations.
            CPAC should also consider other concrete self-help measures in a revised Article II.  For instance, it is not clear whether foreign archaeological missions pay their workers a fair living wage or take advantage of modern electronic surveillance systems to monitor their sites for looting in the long off season.  For that reason, consistent with Congressional directives, GHA requests CPAC to seek information on these issues and to condition any further renewals on Cambodia setting ascertainable benchmarks in these areas. 
            CPAC should also question Cambodian authorities about persistent allegations that elements within the Cambodian military continue to loot out of the way temple complexes.  At a minimum, Cambodian officials should be required to report on what efforts are being made to ensure military discipline directed at discouraging looting by members of the Cambodian armed forces.
            Finally, CPAC should advocate that Cambodia investigate the creation of a portable antiquity reporting scheme for minor objects found on private land.  Once objects reported under that scheme are registered, land owners and/or finders acting with the permission of the landowner should be allowed to retain or sell common objects not necessary for state museums. Such a program, which has been quite successful in the United Kingdom, should be a model for countries such as Cambodia, at least as far as common, redundant objects found on private land are concerned. 
            Thank you for this opportunity to speak.  

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