Friday, August 30, 2013

UNESCO's actions in response to the looting in Egypt

Edouard Planche, program specialist in the Cultural Heritage Protection Treaties Section of UNESCO's Culture Sector,  has kindly agreed to allow me to repost the comment he made on Derek Fincham's Illicit Cultural Property blog, regarding actions that UNESCO is taking in Egypt:
Following the information given by the Egyptian Ministry of State for Antiquities, UNESCO published immediately the data of the stolen objects on its website:
At national level, the UNESCO field office in Cairo continues to provide support to the museum staff and the Ministry of State for Antiquities to refine the list of looted objects and translate it into English. As of today, through the efforts of the Egyptian authorities, the police has already succeeded in recuperating 121 objects but 911 objects are still missing.
UNESCO is taking the initiative to circulate the most updated information concerning this looting and to inform its partners in order to ensure maximum vigilance on anticipated attempts to illegally export and sell the objects on the market.
UNESCO works closely with IGOs sucha as INTERPOL, the World Customs Organisation, ICCROM, UNIDROIT as well as with selected NGOs such as, for example, ICOMOS, ICOM, the International Committee of the Blue shield and private partners of the art market.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Against Despair Over the Looting in Egypt

I am hearing a lot of despair being expressed, on facebook and elsewhere, about our inability to do anything to stop the destruction of cultural heritage in Egypt as elsewhere -- even from people as otherwise optimistic as the great folks engaged with the Sustainable Preservation Initiative. After all, if one cannot protect human lives, how could one protect sites and museums? And if all that international organizations like UNESCO can do is to issue one more statement deploring what is happening, what else can we do?

We can do a lot more actually, and SPI helps point the way, though of course SPI-like initiatives in these countries in chaos are impossible. The key point of SPI, though, is the taking-responsibility by non-governmental groups, and that has to happen here as well -- in spades, since the government has abandoned or lost the ability to fulfill its responsibilities.

So with that as the principle here are a few things that could be done:

  • Non-Egyptians could help by finding ways to donate to Egyptians like Monica Hanna, Save El Hibbeh and other facebook groups, etc. who are mobiizing Egyptian citizens to take direct action where possible; 
  • We could raise money to pay for remote site monitoring to at least make sure the world is aware of what is going on; 
  • We could push much harder for a worlwide emergency ban like the one UN Resolution 1483 imposed on Iraqi materials; 
  • We could help foster longterm growth of both SPI-like and citizen-led emergency site protection groups in countries where breakdown, revolution, or invasion seems possible (UNESCO is doing something like this but working with governments not with NGOs incountry);
  • We could explore ways to tap into the military-to-military friendships that one supposes must exist given the decades of joint exercises, to see if there might be some way to appeal individually to officers there who are in the right position to move some forces onto sites. 

These are action items, and I am sure there are others beyond this (please chime in anyone). But they take energy, as well as financial resources, neither of which exist in anything like the amounts needed for the overall task of investing in sustainable site protection. What we need, above all, is a stable and substantial revenue stream that can feed and incentivize such efforts. SPI generates sustainable revenue streams but only at the local level and only so long as the government takes care of law and order more generally. Is there another market in things archaeological that is not the tourist market, a market that is not affected negatively by unrest or revolution as the tourist market is, a market that is legally protected and therefore could generate sustainable revenue streams, say via a tax or user-fee on purchases with proceeds funneled to support efforts like those above? Why yes! Guess what market that is.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Drones For Site Protection: Necessary but not sufficient

Another story about archaeologists using drones, this time in Peru, to map archaeological sites. As the story notes,

Archaeologists say these small drones can help set boundaries to protect sites from squatters or miners.
A valuable, highly cost-effective tool for site protection as well as for discovery, then -- and, one should add, a tool that could and should also be deployed to protect sites not just from squatters and mining companies but from looters. In either case, however, the caveat is that the drones provide actionable intelligence but the police still need to exist and have the will and capacity to act on this intelligence. When Peruvian property developers bulldoze a pyramid, there is clearly also a need to strengthen deterrence.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Rejoinder to Neil Brodie

As Neil Brodie's response to my original post below makes clear, we agree on much more than we disagree on, including the importance of engaging local communities in site protection efforts, and on the fundamental importance of linkage (on which more below. And as I suspected, at least some of our disagreements are not substantive but semantic. As a policy researcher I tend to think of "effort and resources" as terms that refer to what the government or military actually provides to the archaeologists, museum curators, police, and military personnel -- not to the efforts that archaeologists, museum curators, police, and military personnel expend in order to try to persuade the government or military leadership to empower them. In his response, Neil comes some way towards making this distinction as well. 

But even with this distinction in place, we continue to disagree. This is a question of evidence. Neil seems to believe that the focus in Iraq by archaeologists, curators and military personnel, advocacy-wise, was exclusively on site protection; and because the sites were not protected, this proves that advocating for site protection is a waste of time in all circumstances. 

That strikes me as logically fallacious. But it also seems mistaken as a matter of evidence. I think the record shows that archaeologists, curators, and military personnel concerned about Iraq's archaeological heritage did not in fact make site protection the exclusive focus of their advocacy efforts. In fact, because archaeologists and conservation groups themselves are neither trained nor interested in how to secure sites, it wasn't even the central focus of their advocacy efforts. Of course they castigated and chastised the military, and rightfully so. But look at what they asked for or willingly accepted from government and from foundations, and where the money went: into training conservators and archaeologists, into GIS mapping systems, into rebuilding the museum, into turning Babylon into a tourist attraction, into decks of playing cards to sensitize GIs about the need to do no harm to sites (but not to guard them), into cultural sensitivity awareness-raising talks by the head of the AIA to officers headed overseas. All fine things, but not related directly to stopping looting. In contrast, it took years for Elizabeth Stone to find the money to buy satellite photos simply to be able to document the massive looting that had occurred. And in the absence of that documentation, the Bush administration was permitted to not have to take responsibility for protecting the sites -- while it could, on the other hand, speak proudly about funding these conservation and cultural-sensitivity-training efforts. Oh, and also speak proudly of backing UNSCR 1483 and imposing its own emergency ban on imports of Iraqi materials into the US. Meanwhile thousands of sites were looted.

That does not mean that UNSCR 1483 was ineffective, necessarily. Indeed, Stone believes it accounts for the decline in looting that eventually did occur, though of course the caveat here is that looting continues at a higher level than in earlier times when the antiquities police were stronger (and as Stone herself admits, another possible cause for the decline in looting may be that after three years of massive digging the market was saturated). The point is that it is that we need both more and better supply-end policing and more and better demand-side policing.

Neil, by contrast, suggests that the solution is trade regulation at the international level. Exactly what that would mean I am not sure. But if he has in mind a worldwide ban like that imposed by 1483, now applied to all antiquities whatsoever, I am puzzled. Such a ban would be lovely, of course. But what chance is there of passing such a ban? And if passed, how would the sustainable resources for enforcing the ban be found?

My opinion is that a worlwide ban enforced by robust international policing is pie in the sky. It is almost impossible to imagine it being put in place to begin with, and if it were, it is equally difficult to imagine the international community coming up with the money to make it effective. 

Which brings me to "linkage". Neil and I agree wholeheartedly that it is the buyers of antiquities who fuel the looting, and that therefore any sustainable solution to the problem of looting must recognize the linkage between collecting and looting. But where I think we may differ is that I want a policy that makes this linkage work for our purposes, a policy that would link collecting not to looting but to looting prevention (as well as to policing of the illicit international trade, which would require sustained funding of criminological research of the kind that Neil does so brilliantly). 

As I have argued for quite some time now, one feasible way to begin doing this would be to tax domestic purchases of antiquities and direct the proceeds into policing efforts -- including funding international taskforces, domestic undercover operations and other activities in destination countries, but also including funding for site protection efforts of various sorts in "countries of origin". This proposal is far from what the collectors have in mind when they call for site protection. I agree with Neil that in their case the call is a way of trying to shirk responsibility and shift guilt. My proposal forces collectors to take economic responsibility and is modeled on the "sin tax" model of public policy, so I'm not sure why Neil thinks what I am suggesting sounds like what the collectors say.

Luxor and Karnak monitoring by the press in Egypt shows military not protecting important sites it claims to be protecting

Official statements notwithstanding, it appears from this stunning footage that neither Luxor nor Karnak are receiving protection. Which raises the question: if the Egyptian armed forces are not doing this even after the museum in Malawi was looted, and even after they claim to be doing so in response to threats, what else can be done?

Here are a few action items:

a) more monitoring like this by the press and by citizens to expose failures to protect
b) support from non-governmental organizations and individuals outside of Egypt for efforts by Egyptians to take direct action to guard sites, protect their museums, etc.
c) pressure on the Saudi and American governments by international organizations and citizens to tie any future aid to increased site and museum security
d) a global ban on all trafficking in Egyptian antiquities, with the funding needed to enforce it

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Connect the dots between drones, archaeology, and site monitoring

NBC reports on the increasing use of drones for very cool uses by archaeologists. The lede:

Robotic aerial vehicles are on the front lines for combat and security monitoring, but they're also increasingly on the front lines for archaeology and other research.
Oddly, the reporter does not indicate any awareness that archaeological sites are in dire need of security monitoring against looters, monitoring that drones could accomplish at radically reduced costs compared to traditional means (on-the-ground site inspection, satellite imagery). The reporter instead expresses trepidation that the drones themselves might do harm to archaeological sites:
Such vehicles have to be operated safely, so that they don't injure the people nearby — or, for that matter, the ancient sites being mapped.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Neil Brodie Stirs the Pot

My friend Neil Brodie has responded to my previous post in a comment that, with his permission, I am pulling up here to give it equal visibility:

Knew you wouldn’t like it!!

I suppose I should clarify what I am and am not saying.

First, site protection in Iraq. I said “effort and resources”, and I believe that the effort of some very hard-working archaeologists, museum curators, police, military personnel and politicians, both Iraqi and Coalition, was not fully reflected in the realized material provision of site protection. Similarly, now, I see effort and resources being devoted – I might say diverted – to the question of site protection in Syria. I have long suspected, though nothing more, that UNSCR 1483 did more to protect sites in Iraq than anything on the ground. In other words, a demand-focused measure did more than site protection. The failure there is that UNSCR 1483 was targeted only at Iraq. I hear talk now about the desirability of a similar resolution aimed at Syria. I’m not sure how that would help the situation in Egypt, for example, and I’m not sure what learning I’ve missed in that regard. We need “trade regulation at the international level”. At a guess, there are millions of sites in the world, thousands of collectors and hundreds of dealers. At that very simple level, it seems to me to be a matter of practical common sense where regulatory effort should be expended.

Second, Saddam and Mubarek. I wouldn’t characterize site protection under Mubarek as a success, I would call it a failure. What protection is it offering to archaeological sites in Egypt now? None. Mubarek’s policy did nothing to protect sites in the next country along, nor did it do anything to protect sites in the next regime along. A demand-focused strategy might have achieved a more sustainable solution.

Third, I agree that the localized integration of sites into cultural and economic practices is something to be supported. No argument there.

Fourth, I agree that we need “linkage”, though to me it implies forefronting the trade, not the actual looting. It also highlights the need for more good quality research, a point on which I am pleased to see we both agree.

I believe the problems of looting caused by the antiquities trade are ultimately caused by those who do the buying in the so-called demand or destination countries, and it is there that the solution lies. Calls for site protection sound to me very much like the trade and its beneficiaries trying to shirk responsibility for the damage caused while at the same time relocating guilt and inhibiting the development of more effective demand-focused policies. They add insult to injury.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

The Lessons of Iraq: A Small Quibble With Neil Brodie

Neil Brodie, one of the researchers on illicit antiquities whose work I most admire in the field, has added his own post to others on the Saving Antiquities for Everyone site marking the tenth anniversary of the looting of the Iraq Museum. I always learn from Brodie's writings, and there is much to learn from this piece as well. But I do find myself disagreeing with one of the claims he makes in this piece, and wanted to lay out the reasons why it strikes me as problematic, as well as why I think it is important enough a point to warrant my airing my disagreement with someone I consider an intellectual ally and leader in the field of cultural policy research that has to do with the protection of archaeological sites.

The claim that bothers me comes at the end of this paragraph:
Looking back [at the last ten years since the invasion of Iraq in 2003], one thing is clear. The effort and resources put into protecting Iraqi sites during the 2000s have done nothing to help protect Syrian and Egyptian sites in the 2010s. Similarly, whatever international response can be mobilised now to protect sites on the ground in Syria will do nothing to protect sites in the next country along. Nor will it do anything to protect sites in Iraq. (Has the looting actually stopped in Iraq? If so, why? If not, why isn’t it being reported and what is being done about it?) The response to archaeological looting seems reactive, working on a country-by-country basis, but this is not enough. Looting will never be controlled by on-the-ground site protection, which is much too expensive and usually a case of too little too late. Looting will only be curtailed by adequate policies of trade regulation at the international level, focusing on demand, not supply.
The reasoning here seems wrong to me, both as a matter of logic and as a matter of evidence. To begin with the evidence: Brodie seems to believe that there was "effort and resources put into protecting Iraqi sites during the 2000s", when the focus should have been on "trade regulation at the international level, focusing on demand". That strikes me as backwards: the focus was on getting the UN to put in place a worldwide ban (Resolution 1483), and on embarrassing the museums into tightening their acquisitions policies. As for putting resources into protecting Iraqi sites, we know that the opposite is the case: the US disbanded Iraq's antiquities police and did next to nothing to protect the vast majority of Iraqi sites itself during the occupation period; after the return of sovereignty to the Iraqi government, the US failed to either assist Iraq in reconstituting its antiquities police or to jawbone the Iraqi government into doing so. As late as 2010 (if memory serves), a New York Times article reported that only 50-100 of the 5,000 or so antiquities police that Iraq's own antiquities policing chief said were needed had been budgeted for.  Little wonder then that massive looting occurred in Iraq during that period. 

One of the many lessons of Iraq, in fact, is precisely the opposite of Brodie's dictum that "looting will never be controlled by on-the-ground site protection": looting will never be controlled in the absence of on-the-ground site protection. And the corollary -- that when-on-the-ground site protection is strong, looting is controlled -- also holds. Case in point? Iraq, where looting was controlled pretty well by on-the-ground site protection when the antiquities police under Saddam were powerful.  One could say the same of Egypt under Mubarak.

This is not to say, I hasten to add, that those of us who wish to curtail looting should not also be focusing on policies of trade regulation at the international level focused on stopping the illegal export and import of artifacts (which I would call the distribution side) as  regulation of the demand side (where the sale takes place to collectors and museums). This is not an either/or. To be maximally effective, we need both. 

I would argue, in fact, that more than both, we need linkage between the supply and the demand sides: the only way we will get "adequate" international anti-smuggling regulation that actually is enforced, and site protection that is robust, is if we regulate the demand side by, among other things, imposing a tax on sales of licit antiquities that can generate the revenue needed to pay for robust enforcement of both site protection and anti-smuggling policing. We can't begin to have the argument about how/whether such a linked policy could work in practice, however, or about what Neil has in mind when he calls for  "adequate policies  of trade regulation at the international level", until we stop denying that on-the-ground site protection curtails looting.

I do of course agree that on-the-ground site protection is very very difficult in times of revolution, civil war, or when the state itself is destroyed by an invading force that does not itself impose law and order.  But while difficult, protecting at least some sites in these conditions is not impossible. In fact, one of the other lessons of Iraq is that when the police disappear, the people need to be ready to mobilize to step into the breach. Donny George did that in 2003 himself along with other brave staffers who stood guard in front of the museum holding iron pipes to deter carloads of men carrying AK-47s who drove by having heard that the museum had been looted and hoping to make a foray of their own. And this lesson was learned by Egyptian citizens in Cairo who linked arms to form a human chain around their museum, and who cited Iraq's example as pointing to the need to do this. Monica Hanna and other activist archaeologists in Egypt are now mobilizing Egyptians to take direct action to protect sites and to pressure their government to do more to protect them. Similarly, antiquities officials in Libya learned from arrangements made by archaeologists in Iraq to pay local sheikhs to provide site security, and made deals with local Libyan shepherds to permit grazing on archaeological sites to create a continuous presence there that deterred looting effectively.

These are small successes, but they are real, as are the recent development of new programs by UNESCO and other international agencies focusing on disaster planning for contingencies that might include the breakdown of civil order. To say categorically then, as Brodie does, that "the effort and resources put into protecting Iraqi sites during the 2000s have done nothing to help protect Syrian and Egyptian sites in the 2010s," and that "whatever international response can be mobilised now to protect sites on the ground in Syria will do nothing to protect sites in the next country along", is to miss the learning that has gone on at this level of civil society.

Having gone on this long griping about what I think Neil has got wrong, I want to end by emphasizing that he has gotten absolutely right the need for archaeologists to stop simply pointing the finger at museums and push within their own universities for the hiring of heritage policy researchers -- in, I would add, tenure-track lines jointly funded between public policy or law or international relations departments and the archaeologists' department. I'm not as sanguine as Neil is in thinking that policy makers take seriously hard empirical evidence and cogent reasoned arguments. (My favorite story in this regard: a state arts agency head listened to one of our U of C profs showing that economic impact studies in the arts are completely unreliable, and responded, "I don't care, so long as I have a number, any number, that my legislator can cite.") I myself think we need not just more facts and figures, but more sophisticated models drawn from other policy sectors (i.e., archaeological sites are like environmental goods that get destroyed in the course of producing something else -- antiquities, electric power -- that is marketed, so environmental policy suggests a "pollution tax" might make sense for the antiquities trade). I also think we need more information about the costs of various strategies (is on-the-ground site protection really "too expensive"? compared to enforcing border controls? undercover operations to catch dealers and collectors? and who pays?) But I do share his feeling that we're unlikely to make any progress unless we have more thinking of this kind.