Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Look Hard Before You Leap Again!

I planned to say this at today's Cultural Property Advisory Committee meeting on MOU's with Turkey and Tunisia, but had to limit my actual comments.  Due to the large number of speakers, the Chair only allowed 2 minutes not the usual 5 minutes to speak:

Any MOU with Turkey raises serious legal and ethical questions because it would recognize the Erdogan Government’s rights to “claw back” cultural goods of “ethnically cleansed” Greek, Armenian and Assyrian populations. Moreover, one or more CPAC members recently resigned over President Trump’s tweet threatening Iranian cultural sites, and House Foreign Relations Chair Elliot Engel—with the approval of archaeological advocacy groups supporting this MOU—has introduced H.R. 795 that declares that, “the intentional targeting or destruction of cultural property in the absence of imperative military necessity is a violation of the law of armed conflict and runs counter to the values of the United States.”  Yet, the Erdogan government has recently bombed an important Hittite site in Syria, flooded ancient cities, and has even threatened to turn Justinian’s Great Patriarchal Church, Hagia Sophia, from a museum into a mosque.  These measures are the polar opposite of the “self-help” obligations embedded in 19 U.S.C. § 2602 (a) (1) (b), and granting Erdogan a MOU will only encourage him on his destructive path.   As to coins, let me make the following points for both MOU’s:
·        There are large numbers of coin collectors and numismatic firms in the US.   Most collect out of love of history, as an expression of their own cultural identity, or out of interest in other cultures.  All firms that specialize in ancient coins in the US are small businesses.
·        The brief of the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural affairs is to foster people to people contacts and the appreciation of other cultures. It does so with a huge budget of over $500 million. Ancient coin collecting fosters those same goals, but at no cost to the US Taxpayer.
·        Yet, since 2007, a series of grossly over broad import restrictions placed on common ancient coins of the sort widely collected worldwide (including within most of the countries for which import restrictions have been granted) have done quite a bit of damage to ancient coin collecting.
·        Their cumulative impact has been problematic because outside of some valuable Greek coins, most coins simply lack the document trail necessary for legal import under the “safe harbor” provisions of 19 U.S.C. § 2606.
·        Another embargo, this time potentially impacting a wide variety of Greek, Carthaginian, Roman Provincial, Roman and Byzantine coins struck or sometimes found in Turkey and Tunisia, will bring even more damage. As set forth in IAPN's submissions, there are many statutory reasons why this should not happen. Moreover, CPAC also needs to consider whether import restrictions on coins are really necessary, particularly because it appears that both Turkey and Tunisia allow for the internal sale of ancient coins.
·        At a minimum, CPAC should ensure that Customs only applies the CPIA as written to items on the designated list exported from the State Party after the effective date of regulations.  (19 U.S.C. § 2606).  Unfortunately, the State Department and Customs view this authority far more broadly, and the one Court that has looked at this issue decided to defer to that decision making on “foreign policy grounds.”  In particular, designated lists have been prepared based on where coins are made and sometimes found, not where they are actually found and hence are subject to export control.  Furthermore, restrictions are not applied prospectively solely to illegal exports made after the effective date of regulations, but rather are enforced against any import into the U.S. made after the effective date of regulations, i.e., an embargo, not targeted, prospective import restrictions.

·        CPAC should also make any import restrictions on coins contingent on the creation of a Portable Antiquities Scheme and the provision of export permits.  Turkey already pays for finds in some circumstances and both Turkey and Tunisia already allow for internal sales of ancient coins, which should make both programs possible under local law.  Thank you. 

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