Do you think all nations should help protect one another’s cultural heritage?

SAFECORNERWhat do you think?5 Comments

What do you think? Your opinion matters.

On June 2, 2014, the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) will begin its review of Egypt’s request that the US impose import restrictions on Egyptian antiquities in a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), made under Article 9 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (UNESCO Convention). Written public comments submitted earlier are posted here. (We urge our readers to take the time and read some of the longer submissions where the most reasoned, fact-based arguments are made. To us, substance is a clear winner here, not circular reasoning.)

SAFE has been a proponent of import restrictions as an effect deterrent to stem the trade of illicit antiquities. In Egypt’s case, we wrote on February 1, 2011, “Whether or not legislation is required, until order is restored, we believe that if the demand for Egyptian antiquities is curtailed, if not stopped, the loss of Egypt’s cultural patrimony during this tumultuous time would be curbed.” Earlier this year, we urged the Egyptian authorities to use all legal mechanisms to discourage looting, prevent smuggling, preserve and protect the most precious part of Egypt’s vast cultural patrimony by seeking an MoU with the U.S. 


Both the United States and Egypt are both states parties to the UNESCO Convention which obliges States Parties to restrict the importation of cultural property stolen from a museum or monument in another participating country (Article 7b), and allows States Parties whose archaeological or ethnological patrimony is in jeopardy from pillage to ask other States Parties for help in protecting the affected categories of materials, through measures that may include restrictions on imports and exports (Article 9). In other words, both nations have, for some decades, already decided to join with the international response to curbing looting and the illicit antiquities trade by being a part of the Convention. By imposing import restrictions on Egyptian antiquities, the US would simply be fulfilling its obligations under the Convention, as it has done since the signing of the first MoU with El Salvador in 1987.

SAFE believes that ALL nations should help protect one another’s cultural heritage. While some stakeholders — such as those who advocate for the unregulated acquisition and trade of cultural property — may question the validity of other countries’ cultural patrimony laws and criticize the effectiveness of their enforcement, no meaningful alternative to the 1970 UNESCO Convention, now joined by more than 120 countries around the world, has been proposed.

Helping to protect another nation’s cultural patrimony by temporarily limiting the importation of its cultural property is the least that any right-thinking nation can do to safeguard one of humanity’s greatest legacies.

What do you think?

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5 Comments on “Do you think all nations should help protect one another’s cultural heritage?”

  1. madhu vottery

    We need to help the other countries. The heritage what we have in different counties at present was not like this in past. Originally the world did not have the boundaries the way they are today. hence, it is our duty to work and assist other countries so save the heritage for future generations, giving HERITAGE its true meaning.

  2. Nigel Sadler

    I have answered yes in the survey, however this is not quite the right answer and there wasn’t a place to put my full feelings. In an ideal world we should all be guardians of cultural assets as in many ways they depict humanity, which extends beyond individual country borders. However, at the same time sovereign nations do have a right to do as they see fit, within reason. There is no point having a blanket yes or no view when the situations can be so different and complicated. I believe that the answer to the question should be yes, but with the caveat that outside organisations only become involved at the bequest of the nation in which the items are. This request can be made by any recognised party (a government, opposition, a national Museum etc). Otherwise it could easily be seen as interference from outside agencies and the old tag of ‘colonialism’ can be attached to any action.

    As a sideline answer D has some merit as the items that are being saved must be for the nation in which they are housed/belong to. There is no point going into a country to remove items to safeguard them if they are then removed indefinitely from that country. Therefore for the items to be secure in the country there has to be a degree of stability in the government and there must be museums or organisations that can house, safeguard and even display the items in a secure environment for both the items and the staff looking after the items.

  3. Jack Rollins

    Yes. What manner of person could disagree with the preservation of the world’s cultures? But how myopic the world is as it marches along this veil of tears with muted ears as the dogs bark and the caravan moves on. The world, during the last century, has never witnessed the astonishing number of languages that have no known speakers left and have become extinct (not dead like Latin). No tongue will ever reproduce, nor any eye recognize the centuries of wisdom that this culture held. With the loss of any language we also lose its culture, which often has been recorded in manuscripts buried deep in caves or sand in ancient hiding places. This year we lost countless manuscripts to the appallingly violent attacks upon one of the world’s greatest repositories of knowledge known to man by rebels of the Ansar Dine in Timbuktu, a UNESCO listed World Heritage site. Thank God that the French re-took the city, but these jihadists and Tuareg separatists were left unhindered for too long as they occupied Timbuktu, destroying the shrines of Sufi saints.

    However tragic these losses are, the fact is that if someone has the power to do something, he also has the power not to do it. If the world sits by watching one minimally civilized group destroy–forever–any part of the world’s culture, how unendurably self-absorbed are we; a shiftless, spoilt, selfish, coarse citizens of the world we must see ourselves as “rudely stamp’d.”

    Sadly, when these rare manuscripts reach safety in libraries, often in universities in Europe and the United States, they once again become buried in so restricted an area that few scholars will be admitted to study them. These institutions act not so much as guardians, but private owners of whatever wisdom these manuscripts may hold. Qualified scholars are regularly turned away from these “privately held” collections; in my own research, while a library may have my books on their shelves, they do not fight shy of refusing or greatly restricting my use of them. And no I am not a suspected book smuggler.

    Timbuktu is of immeasurable importance and to mention my own example in the same breadth should give one pause. I have proposed this before, and I will back again. A petition/letter issued from UNESCO that would encourage institutions to allow qualified scholars more reasonable access to rare manuscripts. Secondly, such a document would remind them that they are trusted guardians who should do all that is reasonable to see that their manuscripts, however small, may chance to be important components of our world heritage. This would be an action wholly consistent with the goals of UNESCO.

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