Memorandum submitted by UK UNESCO Forum
1. I refer to the 1970 Convention.
2. At present, it enables poorer states
to turn to the governments of richer states to assist them retrieve
3. As example, following the publication
of UNESCO's Guide to the 100 most valuable artefacts stolen from
Angkor Wat, Cambodia, one item was located in the Metropolitan
Museum of Art, New York, a powerful and well-funded institution.
The comparative weakness of the Cambodian Government might well
have led it to the view that it would be wiser to avoid lengthy
and costly legal wrangles through the US courts against so mighty
an adversary. But it was able to turn for assistance to the US
Government, a signatory to the 1970 Convention, which exercised
its authority leading to the return of the stolen item. The 1970
Convention was applied only because the theft occurred after the
ratification in 1984 of the Convention by the US. There remains
continued confusion in the UK on this matter (see article, Guardian
and consequent letter [Prott]).
4. Contrast this with a similar situation
in the UK which is not a signatory to the 1970 Convention. In
1999, the Egyptian Government finally regained ownership of items
stolen from a burial site in Upper Egypt by UK-based grave robbers.
This followed lengthy action through the English courts. In this
case, the DPP chose to support the Egyptians and a criminal case
was made against the robbersbut this was at the choice
of the DPP, not triggered by the 1970 Convention as was the case
in the US.
5. The book entitled "Preventing the
Illicit Trade in Cultural Property"a resource handbook
for the implementation of the 1970 UNESCO Convention, lists various
initiatives (Ch 3) taken to tackle this smuggling. Besides the
1970 Convention and the Nairobi Convention (1977) which was adopted
by the World Customs Organisation, it is instructive to see which
communities agreed such Declarations. Those made in Brisbane,
Australia (1986), Jomtien, Thailand (1992), Keszthely, Hungary
(1993), Arusha, Tanzania (1993), Bamako, Mali (1997), Cuenca,
Ecuador (1995) and Kinshasa, Zaire (1996) indicate by their locations
where thefts were most widespread. Weak states with poor curatorial
standards, porous borders and underpaid customs officials continue
to lose their most precious cultural property.
6. In the same way as richer states promote
aid and development strategies to support weaker states, they
should ensure that, in the cultural field, these states are supported.
Ratification of the 1970 UNESCO Convention should be seen as an
important element of the UK's assistance to developing states,
especially those in post-conflict situations without an authoritative
central government. In short, we cannot at the same time "feed
the children and turn a blind eye to the looting of cultural property".
7. It follows that the UK, as a major donor
state as well as a major marketplace and final resting place for
cultural artefacts, should adopt a more consistent approach to
its obligations to weaker countries.
8. There are several observations which
the Committee should reflect upon.
9. The US ratified the 1970 Convention in
1984, albeit with certain reservations. There are those in the
US who see the reluctance of the UK to adopt the Convention as
an opportunity to renege on it. Such an outcome would be a catastrophic
blow to those seeking to eliminate the smuggling of cultural artefacts.
10. The French Government ratified the 1970
Convention in 1998, citing its consistency with the relevant EU
Directive. It is difficult to see how the UK Government interprets
the Directive so differently. I would argue that the DCMS continues
to hold its head in the sand on this issue. However, it is certainly
difficult for it to defend itself against the accusation that
it is "in the pocket" of the London auction houses.
As shown by the Secretary of State's reasoning for his announcement
earlier this year, its case becomes weaker each time. I take a
more generous line here; I believe the DCMS to be plain lazy,
citing the need to change the law. That is what Conventions are
all about! If the DCMS needs assistance here, I suggest the task
is given to the FCO whose officials are both more able and willing
to converge UK domestic law with important international legal
instruments. Further, arguments that the EU Directive gives government
sufficient powers are unsupportable and even cynical. The Directive
does not apply in cases of theft and it does not apply to artefacts
stolen from, say, Asia or Africa, the very regions that need our
11. Experience in Canada and Australia show
that those governments can deploy UK-based Common Law to good
effect in working within the 1970 Convention. This experience
demolishes another pillar of the argument put forward by the Secretary
of State for Culture, Media and Sport. I attach two paragraphs
from "Law and the cultural heritage: vol III-movement",
which will assist the Committee.
12. The French police are gathering evidence
linking the international market in stolen cultural artefacts
with the laundering of funds generated through drug-marketing.
Unique, untraceable, unknown, precious artefacts make a convenient
currency in this murky field.
13. The Swiss are yet to ratify but there
is evidence that its government is now considering doing so. This
has been principally driven by recent adverse publicity relating
to artworks looted by the Nazis and the consequent pan-Europe
debate on the matter. Other European states look to the UK to
take the lead.
14. Japan is now reconsidering its position
in the matter. The election of Mr Koichuro Matsuura as Director-General
of UNESCO will have had some influence here!
15. In summary, the UK's continuing laggardliness
and intransigence in this matter is increasingly untenable for
the following reasons:
The EU Directive is inadequate in
the global marketplace. It does not cover theft, nor the import
of stolen goods from outside the EU.
It is inconsistent to aid poor states
yet to hold no formal position on the security of their cultural
property. The ethical dimension to foreign policy is nowhere visible
Evidence that drugs and stolen cultural
artefacts are becoming linked demands positive action, across
4 Not printed. Back