Wednesday, October 26, 2016

U.S. Senators are pushing for Native American Artifact legislation -- but will it do any good?

Here's a news story on the proposed legislation. Two pieces, count-'em two! Well, one is just a resolution. The other, STOP, stands for the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act. So far as I can tell, the main things the legislation does are two: to double the jailtime it is possible to get on conviction for a second offense, and require the Comptroller General to submit a report estimating number of artifacts trafficked and number of prosecutions, "after collecting information from the Attorney General, the Secretary of the Interior, and the Secretary of State, and meeting, as appropriate, with Indian tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations". 

Unfortunately, none of those entities, so far as I know, has the capacity or interest or wherewithal to provide estimates of the extent of the illicit market. As to the doubling of penalties, the theory of deterrence requires that the risk of actually being prosecuted be factored into the deterrent effect. Saddam introduced the death penalty for looting when he lost control, with no discernible impact. So long as the risk of prosecution remains low -- which it will absent some increased incentives to prosecute, increased provision of financial resources to prosecutors, requirements to expand prosecutions, or changes in the burden of proof to make prosecutions cheaper and easier -- there's not likely to be much impact. Nice acronym, though.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Libya: Cultural Racketeering by the Actual Mafia and What it Tells Us about How It Should Be Fought

Informative piece on Libya's struggle to protect its archaeological sites in the absence of a strong centralized government. Several points to note:

  • international trafficking of antiquities is, as Deborah Lehr and the Antiquities Coalition have emphasized, racketeering in which the smugglers are mafia-like organizations -- or in this instance, the actual Mafia!
  • high-end artifacts are being proffered, not just cheap pots.  It may well be the case that there are distinct smuggling channels, with the more violent ones operating at the higher end where the profit margin is the highest. This is at least a hypothesis to be tested.
  • Given the cost of weapons, and the apparently direct trade of weapons to terrorists in exchange for antiquities to the mafia, it makes sense for higher-end artifacts to be favored currency.
  • securing sites in the absence of central authority requires not SPI-style economic development projects aimed at gaining local buy-in, valuable as such projects are in peacetime situations in countries at peace, but rather the arming of local groups backed by rebel authorities.