Friday, October 27, 2017

Virtual CPAC Meeting on Cambodian MOU Renewal Request

On October 23, 2017, the U.S. Cultural Property Advisory Committee held a “virtual” meeting where CPAC members and all speakers were linked via an internet based video platform.  According to my notes, at least the following CPAC members were in attendance:  (1) John Frank (Trade); (2) Karol Wight (Museum); (3) Lothar von Falkenhausen (Archeology); (4) Nancy Wilkie (Archaeology); (5) Rosemary Joyce (Archaeology); (6) Dorit Straus (Trade); (7) James Willis (Trade); (8) Shannon Keller O'Loughlin; and (9) Jeremy Sabloff (Public-Chair).

There were six (6) speakers:  (1) Tess Davis (Antiquities Coalition); (2) Kate FitzGibbon (Committee for Cultural Policy); (3) Mitch Hendricksen (University of Illinois). (4) Josh Knerley (Association of Art Museum Directors); (5) Katie Paul (Antiquities Coalition); and (6) Peter Tompa (Global Heritage Alliance).

Tess Davis- Speaks on her own behalf.  Katie Paul will speak for Antiquities Coalition.  She unequivocally supports renewal of the MOU.  She has worked in Cambodia since 2004.  Davis has never received pay from the Cambodian government and she has worked for the New York prosecutor’s office pro bono.  [She presumably is on salary from the Antiquities Coalition and/or otherwise receives funding.]  The MOU brings tremendous benefits and protects collectors from buying recently looted materials.  She is dedicated to the cause of fighting looting.  She has read the letters of those opposed to the MOU and finds them misguided.

Kate FitzGibbon- There has been an ongoing embargo on Cambodian artifacts for 18 years.  This embargo was put in place as an administrative matter without complying with Congressional limitations.  For instance, after a prior CPAC only supported emergency restrictions on Cambodian statuary in 1999, restrictions were expanded administratively in 2003 without CPAC’s knowledge or consent.   The issue that CPAC should be asking is whether Cambodia is undertaking all the self-help measures it can.  One issue is whether there are adequate museum inventories.  Renewing the MOU will only help legitimize Hun Sen’s repressive government.

Mitch Hendricksen- He supports the MOU.  He works in Cambodia.  NGOs such as Heritage Watch have helped educate local people that looting hurts their heritage.  Now, economic development is the greatest threat to cultural heritage.  The MOU has helped relationships between the government and American archaeologists. 

Lothar von Falkenhausen asks about looting.  Hendrickson says most of temple complexes were stripped clean of statues years ago.  A new road has been built to the temple complex of Preah Khan.  It has brought tourists and police patrols that make looting less likely.

Nancy Wilkie asks about local museums.  One was built near a police station which makes it less likely that it will be looted.  Heritage Watch has done a good job educating locals not to loot.

Josh Knerly- The AAMD supports a renewal of the MOU, but requests that benchmarks be applied to assess self-help.   The US Government and other foreign donors have given generously to Cambodia’s cultural heritage establishment, but the CPIA requires some action on behalf of the Cambodian government.  There needs to be more cultural exchange, not just in situations where an American museum has repatriated an artifact. 

Rosemary Joyce wants to know if the MOU has been responsible for loans.  Knerly says you cannot make that assumption. 

Dorit Straus asks about inventories.  There is a good inventory for artifacts in the National Museum, but not for regional and local museums. 

Lothar von Falkenhausen states that the National Museum collection is on-line.

Katie Paul- Her presentation was difficult to follow given technical problems.  In any event, Paul showed charts that appear to suggest that the United States remains the dominant market for undocumented archaeological objects.  Paul identified 231 artifacts for sale on a web based auction sales platform that were Khmer archaeological artifacts.   There are currently another 46 items on eBay.   The values range from $200-500 Euros to $65,000.  Some of the listings do have provenance information.

Peter Tompa- Notes that the State Department can no longer ignore the self-help requirement.  The House Appropriations Committee has required CPAC to quantify annual national expenditures on securing and inventorying cultural sites and museums.  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.  CPAC should also question Cambodian authorities about persistent allegations that elements within the Cambodian military continue to loot out of the way temple complexes.  Finally, CPAC should advocate that Cambodia investigate the creation of a portable antiquity reporting scheme for minor objects found on private land.  Tompa's complete comments may be found here.

Nancy Wilkie asks why there is an embargo if restrictions allow in documented material.  Tompa states the CPIA limits restrictions to artifacts illicitly exported after the date of restrictions, but Customs applies the restrictions to all artifacts on the designated list.  Documentation is frequently unavailable for items of modest value. 

Lothar von Falkenhausen launches into a monologue in response to Tompa’s suggestion that redundant artifacts could be sold after being recorded.  He states that even minor artifacts have critical context.  Tompa states that the CPIA distinguishes between archaeological interest and cultural significance.  He also indicates that the PAS helps record context.

James Willis asks Tompa to respond to the contention that Cambodia is a poor country that cannot spend money on heritage.  Tompa states that ticket sales at Angkor archaeological park have become a cash cow and that some should be spent for heritage purposes.  He also notes Congress has required CPAC to provide information about expenditures and it up to others to decide their significance.  

1 comment:

John H said...

Hello Peter;

If the quoted auction site really is selling artefacts for between "... $200-500 Euros to $65,000. Some of the listings do have provenance information...", as you report, raises two salient points; where did the provenances come from and who issued them.

To me, this points to corruption high up in the archaeological strata. It's quite obvious therefore, that ordinary Cambodians looting artefacts to supplement low incomes do not have a monopoly of the villainy.


John Howland
UK Collector & Detectorist