Thursday, February 28, 2013

CPAC Meeting on Renewal of Cambodian MOU

On February 27, 2013, I attended a public meeting of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (“CPAC”) to discuss the renewal of the Cambodian import restrictions.  The following CPAC members representing the interests of the public, museums, archaeology and the trade were in attendance:  Nina M. Archabal (Museum);  Barbara Bluhm Kaul (Public); Lothar von Falkenhausen (Archaeology); Patty Gerstenblith, Chair (Public)  Rosemary A. Joyce (Archaeology); Katharine L. Reid (Museum);  Marta A. de la Torre (Public); Nancy C. Wilkie (Archaeology) and James W. Willis (Trade).  Jane Levine (Trade) was not present.  In addition, another trade slot remains vacant.  Cultural Heritage Center staff, including Executive Director Maria Kouroupas and staff archaeologists, were also in attendance for the U.S. Department of State.

There were seven (7) speakers, all of whom supported the renewal.  They were:  Dr. Brian Daniels (U. Penn Cultural Heritage Center/AIA); Tess Davis (Researcher/University of Glasgow); Diane Edelman (President, Lawyer’s Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation); Josh Knerly (lawyer/AAMD); Paul Jett (Freer Gallery/Smithsonian); Karen Mudar (National Park Service, but speaking privately); Helen Jessup (Friend of Khmer Culture).

Brian Daniels spoke first.  Cambodian temple sculptures are still being looted.  Recently, the U. Penn received an email solicitation for the sale of such temple sculptures from Cambodia.  The U. Penn turned the matter over to the authorities.  The seller also sent the solicitation to the Brooklyn Museum of Art.  Cambodia has been very generous with loans to U.S. Museums and has made a real effort to inventory its national museum.  That work is being expanded to include inventories of regional museums and archaeological sites.   In response to questions, Dr. Daniels indicated: (1) there has been some cooperation between Thailand and Cambodia with regard to repatriation of looted Cambodian antiquities; (2) Cambodia has entered into an MOU with Australia that calls for the return of looted material; (3) Cambodia is truly interested in completing an inventory of its cultural treasures.

Tess Davis spoke next.   There are 4,000 known prehistoric sites in Cambodia.  Most have been looted. Cambodia is a much poorer country than its neighbors, Vietnam and Thailand.  It is ranked below the Congo and Iraq in terms of its economic development.  Yet, Cambodia has committed serious resources to protecting its cultural patrimony.  It is hosting an international conference on the subject.  It is going forward with an inventory.  Its law enforcement recently arrested a high ranking general and governor on charges of antiquity smuggling (along with weapons and drugs).  In response to questions, Ms. Davis indicated:  (1) a surprising number of inventory records have survived since the 1960’s given all the warfare that has beset the country; (2) tourism is a positive development, but requires educating tourists not to purchase looted materials; (3) because artifacts are easy to smuggle, U.S. import restrictions are a good second layer of protection; (4) there also is looting of Khmer materials in Laos and Burma, but statistics are hard to come by; (5) there is currently enough funding for the inventory project; (6) the agreement with Australia focuses on law enforcement; (7) the ultimate markets for Khmer artifacts are the U.S., Japan, France, Belgium and Switzerland; and (8) the Cambodian government is doing a better job of posting warnings to tourists.

Ms. Edelman spoke next.  The Lawyer’s Committee is an advocacy organization that is happy to add its agreement to the unanimous view that the MOU should be renewed. 

Josh Knerly then spoke in favor of the MOU.   Loans have been made to major U.S. Museums like the Freer Gallery, but more could be done to encourage loans to regional museums in the U.S.  The AAMD would like to see more direct loans as well.  Currently, all loans need to be negotiated under the authority of the U.S. Embassy.  The Embassy has been cooperative, but it makes sense that some private organization take over.  What the Korea Foundation had done provides a model.

Paul Jett discussed the Freer’s long-term collaboration with Cambodia.  This began in 1997 with the establishment of a metal conservation lab.  Next, was an investigation into the stone that was used for temple building.   Finally, there was the Gods of Angkor Wat exhibit of last year.  In response to questions, Jett indicated there are public education programs in Cambodia.  The inventories vary in quality.

Karen Mudar works for the National Park service but appeared in a personal capacity.  She previously worked in Thailand.  There needs to be public education about looting. The border with Thailand is porous and there are markets for Khmer objects in Thailand.

Helen Jessup spoke last.  There have been 4,000 archaeological sites identified in Cambodia.  There is a porous border with both Vietnam and Thailand.   Artifacts transit through each country.  For a poor country, Cambodia has made a big effort to protect its patrimony.  There are 511 Heritage police in the country.  Eighty-four were trained by the FBI.  Looting has taken place with road construction.  Friends of Khmer Culture have helped fund inventories which have been useful in recovering material from monasteries.  Cambodia has 26 regional museums.  Some are so small that they are housed in police stations or governor’s residences.  There have been zoning efforts to preclude digging near temples.  Outreach is important.  The bilateral agreement has been helpful to control the illicit trade.   In response to a question about corruption, Jessup stated that the situation is uneven.  There are some corrupt officials, but others are good.  There is a need to focus on education.  Tourism is important for Cambodia and in some instances the tourism ministry and the cultural ministry have not been on the same page.  The Cambodians have been extraordinarily generous with loans.  There have been some new museums put up.  A museum run by Thais was unpopular for political reasons.   Another built with Japanese funds but run by Cambodians has been successful. Thefts from monasteries are a continuing problem. One of the ministers in the Cambodian Government has a large collection and runs  his own museum. Other wealthy Cambodians also own Khmer antiquities.  The Ambassador’s Fund has been helpful.  The State Department funded the Red List of Cambodian antiquities at risk which has been useful for Customs officials.  There should be a better effort to post warnings for tourists at the airport.

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