Saturday, January 26, 2013

Interesting Developments out of Vietnam

Exciting and relevant news out of Vietnam recently concerning a new "circular" that will take effect on the 15th February, specifically banning nine new categories of ancient artifacts and documents from leaving the country...except for purposes of "exhibition, research, or preservation in foreign countries." It specifically includes prehistoric "fossilized" human, animal, and plant species, "prehistoric items of various materials of both historical and cultural value," relevant important documents pre and post-1945, and "ancient deposits" and items derived from Vietnam's ethnic minorities dating to pre-1975.

The wording of the missive as reported suggests that most categories of archaeological artifact will be included, ideally including human remains as well. The question still remains as to what changes this new law will effect regarding the vigilance and authority of Vietnamese Customs to seize and search shipments bound for export, as well as (the BIG question), what kind of previsions will be made to ensure that import/export requests made under the new "exhibition, research or preservation" criteria, especially from overseas parties, really are for these purposes? Relevant quarantine forms from specific University departments would be one valid example, but how will the issue of forgery and mislabeling on export permit/customs documents be dealt with?

Fundamentally, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism should be commended, and I foresee that such new legal measures will help to keep the international market in Vietnam-derived antiquities in check, while ongoing research continues to define and quantify the market itself.  Many thanks to my colleague and friend Noel Hidalgo-Tan for initially picking up the story!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

My Note to CPAC

In regards to the Cambodian MoU renewal meetings set for February 27th, I have posted the following comment, and advance of a more formal letter. I encourage my readers and blogosphere colleagues to do the same. The website is here. Comments are due by the 6th February. You may also contribute your time and volunteer power to SAFE's "Say YES to Cambodia" campaign, the cause page of which is here. It's all about getting the word out and letting the government know exactly WHY archaeologists, heritage professionals, scholars and followers of the antiquities trade, and concerned citizens alike all seek to renew the MoU for another five years. If you have more to add, a different perspective to share, or feel you can do better, I encourage you to do so. For even more inspiration, see here. It will take as much concerted group effort as possible to make sure this renewal goes through.

"To the CPAC committee"

I am a professional archaeologist and physical anthropologist with field experience in Southeast Asia (primarily Vietnam, for which no MoU yet exists), and an ongoing project at the University of Sydney's Institute of Criminology, attempting to better quantify the illicit antiquities trade from South and Southeast Asia to Western destinations. It has long been recognized that active MoU's remain the most effective legal means that the US government possesses to bilaterally enforce heritage laws, prosecute offenders, and lend weight to Customs efforts in both source and demand countries.
The last five years have seen the continued implementation of the Cambodian MoU and its elimination now would render the world's largest antiquities market fully open for business once again, as well as ensure that affecting measurable decline in looting in Cambodia itself would become much more difficult. For the sake of the people and irreplaceable historic and prehistoric heritage of Cambodia, the integrity of the archaeological record, and the future ability to use archaeological science to continue to understand the past, I urge CPAC to renew the US-Cambodia MoU."

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Renewed Cambodia-US MoU Pending?

A meeting to decide on whether or not to renew the MoU between the governments of the US and Cambodia, as well as to add Honduras to the list, will be held February 27th-March 1st at the Dept. of State in Washington, DC. Official talks will be closed to the public, but an open session will be held on the 27th, and anyone in the area is free to attend. Also allowed is the submission of written opinions and information for the committee to consider; the sooner the better.

The Cambodia-US MoU was first signed into law in 2003 and extended for another five years in 2008. MoUs remain one of the most powerful legal tools at the disposal of authorities in both countries involved to enforce Customs seizures and import/export restrictions of prohibited and highly sought after categories of artifact on the black market, and aid in prosecutions. I urge everyone concerned about preserving Cambodia's cultural heritage to make their voice heard. I certainly will be!