Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Public Comments Submitted to CPAC Amid Coup and Unrest in Mali

Public comments have now been submitted to the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) regarding Mali’s request for a renewal of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the United States.  The request for the renewed bilateral agreement under the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA) comes amid a March 21 army coup d’etat that removed Mali’s president and other elected leaders. The government overthrow leaves open the question of how the State Department will deal with Mali's request for continued American import protections covering cultural objects from that nation.

The United States government yesterday criticized Captain Amadou Sanogo and his coup supporters’ illegitimate grip on Mali and its people.”  It also demanded that “all armed rebels in the north of Mali to cease military operations that compromise the Republic of Mali’s territorial integrity . . . .”  (See the U.S. Department of State’s Daily Press Briefing here).

In the midst of Mali’s turmoil, the CPAC comment submission process received a dozen remarks concerning the proposed MoU renewal.

Among those expressing support for the Malian request were the Penn Cultural Heritage Center Executive Director.  Richard Leventhal and his colleagues wrote that there is “a situation of serious pillage jeopardizing the cultural patrimony of Mali [that] exists” to warrant a “renewal of import restrictions on archaeological and ethnological material from Mali.”  The Penn Center also urged the State Department to negotiate several items with the Malian government, including updating its inventory of cultural property to facilitate loans to American museums and creating “an interministerial committee to coordinate activities to preserve cultural heritage in Mali and strengthen efforts to reduce the internal sale and export of restricted antiquities.”  A copy of the Penn Center’s complete letter and position paper appears here.

Douglas Park, a Yale University educated anthropologist who has worked in Mali stated in his prepared remarks: “The beneficial effect of the Mali Cultural Property Protection MOU cannot be overstated. Local Malian capacity to carry out cultural heritage management programs is a direct result of the MOU. In light of the lamentable circumstances currently straining Malian political stability, a renewed bi-lateral agreement with the United States will undoubtedly assist in curbing opportunistic looting and black market trade by outside actors eager to take advantage of the presently difficult and fluid conditions.”

Roslyn Walker of the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) made the following comments:  “Not only are there few antiquities in the [DMA] collection, few works of art are from Mali. Ideally, I would like to display objects that reach back in time, for example a Djenne-jeno or Bankoni-style terracotta figure or a Tellem ritual vessel or wooden headrest from Mali.
The Dallas Museum of Art is neither buying nor accepting gifts of Malian antiquities as per the Cultural Property Implementation Act. The only way the Museum can obtain Malian antiquities is to borrow them from the National Museum of Mali. . . . I understand the Museum’s being protective of its collection, but I would like to offer a suggestion. The Museum could post a form of loan application on the website with an invitation to only accredited museums. If the National Museum of Mali is satisfied with the applicant’s credentials, the National Museum can make their inventory available electronically or on-site. There would follow the formal request, approval of the loan by either the director or a government official, determination of the loan fee if it is not standardized, the logistics of crating and shipping the objects and/or an agreement on exchange of services, and granting of an export permit.”

Support for the MoU came from the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), but with concerns:  “The recent coup d’état in Mali puts in peril the stability of Malian government that we have known over the last two decades as well as its ability to take steps to protects its cultural patrimony. The ability of the Committee now to evaluate . . . e.g., security efforts at sites, police pursuit of criminals, enforcement of export restrictions, education of citizens, etc., is more difficult.”

The AAMD added: [E]ven before the recent coup there existed challenges for American museums that wanted to undertake loans. In order to have a meaningful dialogue about loans, one must have an idea of what is available to be leant and Mali has few if any publically available inventories. Furthermore, access to storage areas to determine what might be available to borrow is severely limited. In addition to these specific concerns about Mali’s compliance with the 2007 MOU, the AAMD hopes that the Committee has or will inquire as to other efforts Mali has undertaken . . . .”

Access to the full comments described above and to the others submitted can be found here.