Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The end justifies the means

CPAC To Meet


By Peter Tompa

The Federal Register reports that the Cultural Property Advisory Committee will meet to discuss renewals of current MOU's with Guatemala and Mali, and to conduct further discussion in secret about a request from Bulgaria. See http://www.ofr.gov/(S(mb4uyziobevezdhmm1qt4oyc))/OFRUpload/OFRData/2012-05909_PI.pdf

Archaeo-blogger Rick St. Hilaire's post about the upcoming meeting seeks to portray the secrecy and culture creep that has marked the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs'administration of the CPIA as both necessary and consistent with the statutory mandate. See http://culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com/2012/03/mali-guatemala-and-bulgaria-up-for.html

However, others-- including several former CPAC members-- have questioned this, most recently during a public forum on Capitol Hill. See http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2011/03/cultural-property-implementation-act-is.html




Rick St. Hilaire's perspective on the obsessive secrecy and anticollecting bias that has characterized the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Cultural Heritage Center's administration of the CPIA (under the direction of Maria Kouroupas) is contrary to the clear intent of Congress in enacting the CPIA legislation. That intent is a matter of historical record.

During the Kouroupas administration, the CPIA has gradually been twisted into a tool for restricting and suppressing private collecting of antiquities and the trade that supplies it.

That was exactly what trade experts had anticipated at the time the CPIA was being drafted, as this excerpt from p. 30 of COIN COLLECTORS AND CULTURAL PROPERTY NATIONALISM records:

" Opposition focused on implementation of the Convention’s Article 9 by authorizing import restrictions on archaeological material through bilateral agreements between the United States and source countries. It was argued that the legislation would award DOS a “blank check” that could be used to embargo importation into the United States of almost all antiquities. The trade maintained that giving the State Department such broad authority, was not required either by the spirit or the letter of the UNESCO Convention and expressed concerns that DOS, for diplomatic expediency, would use its powers to the benefit of foreign countries and detriment of the US art market. The proposed legislation required the Executive Branch, as a precondition for the conclusion of bilateral agreements with source countries, to reach certain findings through consultation with a panel of experts, but the trade was concerned that arriving at these findings would be ritualistic and pro forma. Since requirements for such findings were vague and could not be appealed to a court or overruled by Congress, they would not constitute any effective check on the State Department’s broad discretion."

This paper can be found online at

http://www.accg.us/Libraries/Documents/NewcastlePaper.sflb.ashx .

It appears that St. Hilaire believes that when the interests of archaeology are involved, the end justifies the means. "Due process of law," "innocent until proven guilty," the Constitutional rights of US citizens, the principle that a litigant has a constitutional right to his day in court before his rights may be judicially altered -- none of these fundamental American legal principles seem to matter as much to Mr. St. Hilaire as championing the interests of archaeology.

One day the pro-collecting advocacy movement will finally have its day in court, and the true story of what has taken place behind the scenes at Cultural Heritage Center will be made public. In my opinion, the public and our legislators will be shocked by what will be disclosed.

Freedom of information is essential to the preservation of our liberties and our democratic society. Every US citizen should understand that obsessive secrecy and refusal to make mandated freedom of information disclosures may indicate that something which cannot stand the light of day is being concealed.



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