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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

MoUs: Italy Renewed; Egypt Still Pursued; Cambodia and Belize Get a CPAC Interlude

United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Treasury Department have promulgated rules, effective today, that extend import restrictions on archaeological material originating from Italy.

First erected by a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the U.S. and Italy in 2001 and subsequently refreshed in 2006, 2011, and now 2016, the import barriers seek to deter cultural property looting and trafficking by denying entry to endangered pre-Classical, Classical, and Imperial Roman artifacts bound for the American marketplace.

The import barriers result from Italy's request for American assistance pursuant to Article 9 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.

Under import regulations authorized by the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA), certain categories of 9th century B.C. through 4th century A.D. antiquities, armor, mosaics, jewelry, sculpture, and other archaeological material from Italy may be seized by CPB if trafficked across the U.S. border. The designated list of objects subject to the legal restrictions can be found here.

Italy asked for the latest MoU renewal in February 2015, and the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) met in April last year to weigh the matter. The renewal process concluded within a usual time frame. By contrast, Egypt's first and only request for an MoU with the U.S. seems to have stalled without explanation.

Egypt asked CPAC to consider enacting protective import measures in April 2014, attracting a variety of public comments from preservationists, ancient coin collectors, the Association of Art Museum Directors, and other stakeholders. Yet despite CHL's admonitions in June 2011 and July 2013 for emergency legislation to protect at-risk Egyptian material, followed by a call in March 2014 to implement CPIA import restrictions "with all deliberate speed," import regulations covering ancient Egyptian artifacts still have not been approved.

CPAC, meanwhile, will be meeting in executive session next month for an interim review of MoUs covering jeopardized archaeological material from Cambodia and Belize, both approved in 2013. Public comments will be solicited at a later date should either agreement be considered for extension.

Photo credit: Matthew Strickland

Text copyrighted 2016 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer, a blog commenting on matters of cultural property law, art law, cultural heritage policy, antiquities trafficking, and museum risk management. Blog url: culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of any blog post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL is a service of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Making a Difference: SAFE Founder Cindy Ho Awarded AIA's Outstanding Public Service Award

Indifference is a word unknown to Cindy Ho. A graphic designer and independent professional, Ms. Ho created Saving Antiquities for Everyone (SAFE) in 2003 in an effort to stop the destruction of humanity's heritage. She took action in direct response to looters ransacking the Iraqi national museum.

SAFE founder Cindy Ho
"We're dealing with a global problem that's fueled by the black-market antiquities trade," Ms. Ho announced soon after SAFE started. "It's important to inform the general public that our collective cultural heritage is in danger."

For her distinguished accomplishments and unwavering resolve, the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) last week conferred its prestigious Outstanding Public Service Award on Ms. Ho during a ceremony held at the Hilton Hotel in San Francisco, California.

"To know and not to act is not to know," she exhorted, quoting Chinese philosopher Wang Yangming, inspiring ceremony attendees to apply their collective knowledge to protect cultural heritage.

Ms. Ho's energy and perseverance propelled SAFE to become the preeminent grassroots organization dedicated to preserving the past through public awareness. During her leadership, spanning the time of its founding through 2014, SAFE spearheaded widely popular projects such as
  • the annual Global Candlelight Vigil, commemorating the looting of the Iraq Museum;
  • the Say Yes campaigns, rallying public support for import controls to protect endangered archaeological artifacts;
  • the Beacon Awards, honoring notable defenders of cultural heritage; and
  • social media messaging and podcasts, making the world of antiquities trafficking familiar to everyday Americans.
A lasting legacy of Ms. Ho's endeavors has been a new generation of cultural property professionals and stakeholders--including archaeologists, museum personnel, conservators, auction house employees, and collectors--who are keenly aware of archaeological site looting and antiquities smuggling.

In her acceptance speech, the SAFE founder celebrated this notable change over the last thirteen years, declaring that "others are paying attention in a significant way."

But much more needs to be done because what hasn't changed, Ms. Ho warned, is "the no questions asked antiquities trade is still the incentive for looting and destruction." With a call for greater action resounding in her voice, she asked, "How can we possibly tell our children and our children's children that the connection to their past is no longer possible because it has been sold off....?"

Former Director General of the National Museum of Iraq and a past professor at Stony Brook University in New York, the late Dr. Donny George Youkhannahailed SAFE’s work several years ago as "critical ... for the heritage of mankind," and declared, "All those who enjoy the benefits of democracy have a duty to stand up and support those actions that will stop the destruction of history.”

Cindy Ho, in fact, stood up to secure the future of archaeology, history, and culture. Because she did so, SAFE's architect demonstrated how one citizen can make a world of difference.

It is no surprise then that the AIA last Thursday praised Ms. Ho's "tireless efforts in raising public awareness about the need to safeguard archaeological heritage."

The AIA boasts over 200,000 members and is North America's largest and oldest archaeological society, chartered by Congress in 1906. Its public service award is presented annually to a recipient who makes exceptional contributions to archaeology and the preservation of the archaeological record.

Text copyrighted 2016 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer, a blog commenting on matters of cultural property law, art law, cultural heritage policy, antiquities trafficking, and museum risk management. Blog url: culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of any blog post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL is a service of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

"Antiques" from Iraq: Trade Stats Raise Questions

Iraq has been identified as a source of conflict antiquities, which is why the International Council of Museums refreshed its Red List of endangered Iraqi cultural property in June 2014 and why the United Nations Security Council last February unanimously adopted a resolution targeting heritage trafficking in the region as a source of terror funding.

With this in mind, it is surprising that “antiques" ranked as the #4 declared import to the United States from Iraq by value in 2014, the latest date for which complete data is available from the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC). In fact, there were more antiques imported from Iraq than goods like lambskin leather, dates and figs, fruit juices, and even spices.

Totaling $3,378,296 in general customs value, these antique imports “of an age exceeding 100 years” were outpaced in value only by America’s largest and most predictable import from Iraq, namely crude oil (#1) and non-crude oil (#2), as well as reimports of various articles originally exported from the U.S. (#3).

Importers of record are legally responsible for declaring goods on customs entry forms by supplying information such as proper value, correct country of origin, accurate Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) classification, and complete product description. Of course there are many examples of traffickers who try to skirt their obligations in an effort to smuggle cultural heritage objects into the U.S. illegally, which is why antiques imports from Iraq should be scrutinized.

It is not known how many legal or illegal antiquities importers brought into the U.S. from Iraq last year. What is known is that declared imports of  "antiques" classified under HTS 9706 originated from a war zone where cultural heritage is in jeopardy. What commodities were exactly shipped to American ports of entry and why, in fact, did the bulk of declared HTS 9706 commodities originating from Iraq--$3,330,619 worth--get shipped to New York City remains a mystery, at least for now.

Were these imports deliberately misclassified to plausibly conceal illegally dug-up ancient tablets, foundation cones, sculptures, and more? Possibly. Or did a legal trade in vintage trays and antique coffee pots actually spike for some reason because of the conflict? Customs officials should find out for certain, particularly given the identified threat posed to archaeological site looting and museum and storehouse theft as a result of the unrest in Iraq.

There is another interesting observation. Among the 37 kinds of commodities imported into the U.S. from Iraq in 2014, antiques, together with with three other types of goods categorized under the broad import category of HTS 97 Works of Art, Collectors’ Pieces and Antiques, exceeded all other imports by value of primary Iraqi origin, except oil. The declared value of the HTS 97 commodities together totaled $3,554,595. So customs officials should also find out what goods importers actually classified as collections and collectors’ pieces of historical, archaeological, or numismatic interest under HTS 9705; as original sculptures and statuary under HTS 9703; and as paintings under HTS 9701.

One armed group operating in both Iraq and Syria is the terror organization ISIS, which reportedly has exploited cultural property as an important revenue stream. Suspiciously, the #1 U.S. category of imports by value from Syria in 2014 was “Antiques.” And now USITC trade data show that American imports from Iraq unveil further red flags.

Until the fighting subsides, and until customs officials learn more about the unanswered questions swirling around American imports of Iraqi cultural heritage goods, collectors would be well-advised not to buy heritage material from the region, or at least exercise rigorous due diligence when buying, in order to steer clear of acquiring potential ISIS loot.

Photo credit: Sam LeVan

Copyright notice: Although the data presented here is sourced from publicly available information, it is an original work of authorship that has been carefully selected, coordinated, arranged, and analyzed so that it is an original work of authorship subject to copyright protection as a compilation and/or a derivative work by CHL. The publication, retransmission, or broadcast of this compiled data is strictly prohibited without CHL's express consent.

Text copyrighted 2016 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer, a blog commenting on matters of cultural property law, art law, cultural heritage policy, antiquities trafficking, and museum risk management. Blog url: culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of any blog post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL is a service of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.