30th Anniversary of the Cultural Property Implementation Act
by Peter Tompa
No single one-day symposium can possible do full justice to the overall extent of this subject, and the evident need for in-depth exploration of a multiplicity of significant topics, each of which would clearly offer scope for a panel or subcommittee to explore and monitor on an ongoing basis, via hearings and discussion sessions with invited presentations by experts in the field.
Topics which Tompa's report indicate would be fruitful subject matter for such ongoing study include:
1) Evasion of the original purpose and intent of the CPIA.
Very credible observations and allegations have been made to the effect that under the thirty year direction of archaeologist Maria Kouroupas, administration and organization of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) -- and subsequent consideration of CPAC recommendations in determining State Department decision regarding requests for import restrictions -- have shifted from what was originally intended to be a searching, comprehensive and evenhanded analysis of the merits of each request to a ritualistic sham process of appearing to follow the letter of the law, while in reality evading the intent of Congress and pursuing a hidden agenda.
According to this perspective, requests for import restrictions are being secretly discussed between State department staff and representatives of foreign governments prior to submission, and there is reason to believe that these discussions often (if not always) become de facto negotiations, in which US accession to restrictions is exchanged for diplomatic objectives that have no connection with the 1970 UNESCO Convention, or other cultural property law.
Congress, in enacting the CPIA, made a very significant effort to enide sure that the CPAC would provide a balanced perspective between the interests of museums, collectors and the trade supplying them, archaeologists and anthropologists, and the general public.
As Tompa's report indicates, membership of the CPAC, and review and decision making process after submission of CPAC recommendations, are now controlled by archaeologists and State Department staff who are de facto allies of and proxies for archaeologists.
The CPIA, and the CPAC panel evaluating requests for import restrictions, were intended by Congress to offer a transparent process whose proceedings would be visible to the public and would offer proper scope for public opinion expressed via comments submitted for consideration by the CPAC.
Probably no other aspect of the whole maladministered CPIA system has been so egregiously, unscrupulously (and probably unlawfully) twisted and exploited so as to evade the legislative intent of Congress, as has the State Department's recalcitrant insistence upon drawing a veil of secrecy over its administration of the CPIA and its review of CPAC recommendations.
4) Legislative Review.
Congress clearly intended that our legislators would be able to review and oversee the workings of the CPIA's administration and decision making processes, by providing for a reporting system whereby according to 19 U.S.C. § 2602(g), Congress itself retained oversight of the CPIA process.
While reports satisfying the letter of the law are submitted to Congress they are not made public, and there is no reason to believe that such reports provide insights into the decision making processes followed. The actual workings of the CPIA's administration and decision making processes are not being disclosed to Congress, and no genuine and effective legislative oversight is taking place.
5) Routine renewal of MOUs implementing import restrictions.
The CPIA provides that renewal of import restrictions is contingent upon (a) whether the circumstances upon which the enactment of restrictions was based still exist and (b) whether the restrictions have proven effective in addressing those circumstances.
There is no evidence to indicate that effective fact-finding as to the justification for renewing import restrictions is actually taking place, nor is there transparency of process allowing the public or Members of Congress to understand the process for considering requests for renewal. Instead, there is every reason to believe that renewal of import restrictions has become automatic and that refusal to renew has never been seriously considered by the State Department.