Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Another Dubious Seizure of an Artifact Long on Display

NY Prosecutors Vance and Bogdanos have seized a fragment of a relief said to be from Persepolis from a London dealer who set up at a New York City Art Fair.  The relief in question had been put on display at a Canadian museum back in the 1950’s.  The seizure raises serious legal questions about whether the Iranian statute used as the basis for the seizure really vests title of the artifact in Iran, whether at the time such artifacts were given to excavators so they may not, in fact, be “stolen,” and whether laches would apply to defeat such a stale claim.  There is also the obvious question whether Vance and Bogdanos should be using New York taxpayer’s money to take private property to award it to the Islamic Republic of Iran, a state sponsor of terrorism whose top officials at times have threatened to bulldoze pre-Islamic sites like Persepolis and the tomb of Cyrus the Great.  But the real question is whether the dealer will fight the seizure, particularly given the costs and potential criminal liability involved.  

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.  

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.  

Monday, October 16, 2017

Little Public Support for Renewed MOU with Cambodia

Low numbers of comments to CPAC suggest low public support for a renewed MOU with Cambodia.  Indeed, though most of the twenty-one (21) comments were supportive of the renewed MOU, virtually all these came from archaeologists who depend on Cambodian excavation permits or their associated archaeological advocacy groups.  Meanwhile, it is finally dawning on some in Congress that MOUs have devolved into special interest programs for archaeologists.  Significantly, Congressional appropriators have required CPAC to report on the expenditures MOU partner countries make in securing their own cultural patrimony.  Hopefully, this will help change a culture that has vilified collectors to help divert attention away from poor stewardship of archaeological resources by source countries. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Archaeologists for Assad?

UNESCO's Bulgarian Ex-Communist Director-General has praised Syria's Director-General for Antiquities and Museums in glowing terms.

“'When history books teach children about those who contributed to conserving Syrian heritage during the devastating conflict in Syria, Dr Maamoun Abdulkarim will be at the top of the list, along with all others who have been so dedicated and deserving of the world’s respect for their relentless, humanist commitment', said UNESCO Director General, Irina Bokova."

What appears lost on UNESCO and members of the archaeological lobby who have also sung Abdukarim's praises is the fact that the Assad regime, which Abdulkarim serves, itself has been responsible not only for mass murder, but for the looting and the intentional destruction of Syrian cultural patrimony.  Indeed, Assad, like other Arab Strongmen, appears all too willing to use and abuse archaeology for his regime's own political purposes.  So, why should Abdulkarim be praised at all?