Saturday, October 03, 2015

Why I am worried about AAMD's new "safe haven" protocols

Brian Daniels, whom I greatly respect for the important work he and his colleagues are doing to try to monitor and help Syrians safeguard archaeological sites and artifacts, is happy about the AAMD's announcement of safe haven protocols for antiquities from conflict zones. Here's Brian's facebook post, which many other fellow heritage protection advocates are retweeting approvingly:
"Quite possibly one of the most important developments in the field of cultural heritage policy in recent years. Not only does the AAMD declare its support for the 1954 Hague Convention, but it will treat objects in AAMD member museum safe havens as loans--not permanent acquisitions. (As such, a U.S. museum would need to follow U.S. law for an international museum loan to participate). The guidance outlined here is what framers of the 1954 Hague Convention had in mind for museums following World War II."
I cannot share this enthusiasm. Framers of the 1954 Hague Convention did not have in mind, objects dug up from archaeological sites by private parties, smuggled out of Syria to Turkey or Dubai and then bought up by dealers or collectors. There was nothing like the global market for illicitly excavated antiquities in 1954 that there is now. And the AAMD protocols, I worry, include provisions that will encourage more looting and smuggling of artifacts.

Here's the relevant section of the AAMD protocols, with the problematic language italicized:

II. The Source of Works In Need of Safe HavensIn the event of a terrorism occurrence or during an armed conflict or natural disaster, works may be brought for safe haven in the United States, Canada or Mexico from any depositor, assuming of course compliance with applicable law (see below).  Predetermining who may request such assistance in the abstract is not always possible, but may include the legal owner of a work, the agent for the owner, the bailee of a work, the custodian of a work, and a person or entity who comes into possession of the work and the owner is unknown, unavailable or legally constrained [sic] (collectively, a “depositor”).  Examples of a depositor are:
  • Museums in the affected area that hold works;
  • Governmental entities of or within the affected areas;
  • U.S. government authorities who have seized works on entry to or in the United States; or
  • Private individuals, companies or organizations who own or come into possession of works, whether in the affected area or after removal from the area.
Member museums should exercise caution to assure that accepting the request for safe haven will not violate the rights of lawful owners, subject the museum to a claim for return, reflect negatively on the reputation of the museum or cause the museum to be involved in any illegal or unethical activity.  Requests for safe haven and agreements to accept such requests should be documented where possible prior to movement of works to be transferred.
The garbled syntax in the first italicized phrase is a tell, indicating that this is an issue the AAMD must have been wrangling. With good reason. The last quoted paragraph above notwithstanding, the protocols give a green light to museums to accept as loans artifacts purchased from the networks that are paying looters to continue to dig, networks that in some cases are run by or beholden to ISIS. Those who purchase such blood antiquities will now be able to loan them to a museum, which will provide the buyers with a patina of legitimacy and museum approval that will increase the value of the artifact when it is returned to them. 

Taking as loans artifacts from museums, government entities, or seizures is an excellent idea. Taking as loans artifacts bought from the illicit market is a terrible idea.

, seeing it as marking a welcome albeit belated move that 

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