The State Department Cultural Heritage Center website has provided advance notice that the Cultural Property Advisory Committee will meet to consider renewals of current MOUs with Libya and Belize. See https://eca.state.gov/cultural-property-advisory-committee-meeting-july-26-27-2022
The public may provide written comment in advance of the meeting and/or register to speak in the virtual open session scheduled for July 26, 2022, at 2:00 p.m. EDT. Both written comments and requests to speak at the open session will be due July 19th.
Written comments are to be posted on regulations.gov. An upcoming Federal Register notice should provide details.
The Libyan renewal should be controversial for several reasons. The MOU was originally rushed through after allowing only 5 days for public comment. At the time, Libya was a failed State with two competing governments propped up by foreign interests. Subsequently, without seeking input from CPAC, the State Department morphed “emergency import restrictions” into a MOU with the faction headquartered in Tripoli. Today, Libya remains a failed state where the political stalemate often erupts into open combat. Each side is well armed with the help of their authoritarian foreign sponsors. The Tripoli faction is propped up by Turkey with the help of Syrian mercenaries. In contrast, the Benghazi faction is propped up by Egypt and Russia with Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group providing extra muscle. The place is so dangerous that no US Embassy has operated there since the ambassador was murdered by terrorists. Does anyone really believe that artifacts repatriated under this MOU will be safe in such an environment?
These concerns about the safety of these artifacts are exacerbated because the designated list is so all encompassing. It covers archaeological material from 12,000 B.C. to 1750 A.D. and Ottoman era ethnological material from 1551 A.D. through 1911 A.D.
This designated list raises issues of concern to Jewish exile groups and coin collectors. Jewish groups are concerned that the MOU with Libya recognizes the rights of that government to the cultural heritage of the country’s displaced Jewish minority. While specific references to Jewish cultural heritage were removed from revised import restrictions associated with the MOU, such material is still implicitly covered because there is no specific exemption as was the case with Morocco.
The restrictions on coins are grossly overbroad. See https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/07/09/2018-14637/import-restrictions-imposed-on-archaeological-and-ethnological-material-from-libya In particular, the restrictions empower U.S. Customs to seize Greek silver and gold coins, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman coins imported from legitimate markets in Europe on the assumption that they are “Libyan” even though such coins circulated regionally and internationally and not “exclusively” or even “primarily” in Libya.
By contrast, the MOU with Belize, a Central American Democracy, is much less controversial. The import restrictions are also broad, applying to a wide variety of archeological material ranging in date from approximately 9000 B.C. to at least 250 years old, including, but not limited to, objects comprised of ceramic, stone, metal, shell, bone, glass, and wood. The issue there will be whether there will be any effort to expand current import restrictions to ethnographic artifacts or coins.
Update (7/18/22): The Regulations.gov link from which to comment is now live. It may be found here: https://www.regulations.gov/document/DOS-2022-0015-0001 For a direct link to the comment page, see https://www.regulations.gov/commenton/DOS-2022-0015-0001
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