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The Problem of Pillage

From the Senate Report No. 97-564 on Implementing Legislation for the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Cultural Property 

"The increasing demand in recent years for archaeological and ethnological materials and antiquities has spurred, in most experts' opinions, a great increase in the international exchange of such materials. But unlike other commodities, increased or new production of these articles cannot rise to meet the demand. Instead, the increased supply results from the sales of known artifacts and those newly recovered from archaeological sites. The unique origin and character of these articles raises serious trade issues distinct from the normal concerns of the reciprocal trade agreements program or U.S. trade law.  

No detailed data exist that provide reliable insights into either the precise nature or magnitude of trade in cultural property. As one expert points out. "It is easy to understand why we have little information. Much about the art trade simply is not knowable." Bator. An Essay on the International Trade in Art 34 Stan. L. Rev. 275, 291 (1982). Professor Bator suggests that this is because of the vast number of undiscovered or unidentified objects; the lack of resources among many nations to develop their cultural resources; and the secret nature of much of the trade. Nevertheless, the testimony to the committee on S. 1723 confirmed the evidence given in various Congressional fora in recent years and in many learned articles: the demand for cultural artifacts has resulted in the irremedial destruction of archaeological sites and articles, depriving the situs countries of their cultural patrimony and the world of important knowledge of its past. Further, because the United States is a principal market for articles of archaeological or ethnological interests and of art objects, the discovery here of stolen or illegally exported artifacts in some cases severely strains our relations with the countries of origin, which often include close allies. As stated by the Department of State in commenting on S. 1723:  

The legislation is important to our foreign relations, including our international cultural relations. The expanding worldwide trade in objects of archaeological and ethnological interest has led to wholesale depredations in some countries, resulting in the mutilation of ceremonial centers and archaeological complexes of ancient civilizations and the removal of stone sculptures and reliefs. In addition, art objects have been stolen in increasing quantities from museums, churches, and collections. The governments which have been victimized have been disturbed at the outflow of these objects to foreign lands, and the appearance in the United States of objects has often given rise to outcries and urgent requests for return by other countries. The United States considers that on grounds of principle, good foreign relations, and concern for the preservation of the cultural heritage of mankind, it should render assistance in these situations.
Witnesses before the committee also pointed out that the interest of the United States in this matter extends beyond our import market and our interest in fostering the careful study of foreign cultures. In recent years, the increasing interest in native American, Hawaiian, and Alaskan artifacts concomitantly has spurred the pillaging of U.S. historic sites. The destruction of such sites and the disappearance of the historic records evidenced by the articles found in them has given rise to a profound national interest in joining other countries to control the trafficking of such articles in international commerce."  


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