No home for India's priceless heritage: Centre frets over where to keep 'stolen' national treasures worth $100 million when US sends them back
Mail Online: July 17: The Indian Government is at a loss where to put scores of artefacts returned to the country after they were stolen or illegally exported.
“Now the problem is if we get these antique idols back to India, where will we keep them? We can’t dump them randomly at museums as many of them have high religious value. And on the other hand, if we reinstall them at the temples or other places where they used to be, who will take care of the security of these items?” sources at the Ministry of Culture told Mail Today.
An official said that if these artefacts are returned to their original locations, attempts would be made to steal them again.
A proper security mechanism needs to be in place, such as CCTV cameras around the premises and security personnel, to thwart such efforts. The cost of this operation remains unknown.
The US government returned over 200 stolen cultural artefacts to India, some dating back 2000 years, when PM Modi visited the country in June this year.
This article prompts the question as to whether similar issues need to be taken into consideration before returning artefacts to MENE countries to ensure that they are not put at risk and that those countries fulfill their obligations under the UNESCO Convention.
Ministry of Antiquities launches first permanent exhibition for replicas
Egypt Daily News: July 17: The Ministry of Antiquities has launched its first exhibition of high-quality replica artefacts at the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square.
“The goal of this project is to create alternative financial resources to replace the tourism sector’s declining revenues, which have dropped to less than EGP 250m from EGP 1.25bn before the 25 January Revolution,” said supervisor for the scientific publication administration at the Ministry of Antiquities Hussein Abdel Baseer.
With official figures showing tourist numbers almost halved between March 2015 and March 2016, down from 834,600 to 440,700, the Government is looking for alternative sources of revenue.
“The ancient Egyptian art revival centre and the replica production unit have been working on producing a large number of high-quality replicas for several years, such as copying the antique collection found in Tutankhamun’s tomb,” says the article.
These replicas are now also being sold and From July 14 to August 29, the permanent exhibition is offering an extra 20% discount on all of them.
Is there any risk that these replicas could feed into the market for fakes? The trade would identify them easily, but many fakes are now being promoted via eBay and social media to the uninformed.
The article also states that this is not the ministry’s only plan for increasing tourism revenues in Egypt. “We intend to hold more international exhibitions to showcase original antiquities in Japan and England. We also have other plans to renew the cafes and restaurants in the pyramids area and establish new shops and cinemas in the museum of civilisation,” said Basser.
Another main objective of the ministry is promoting domestic tourism and urging more Egyptians to visit museums. “We do not need to solely depend on foreign tourists. Grabbing the attention of the Egyptian and Arab tourists also will help revive the tourism sector for a while,” Basser concluded.
Germany: Act to Protect Cultural Property Passed
Global Legal Monitor, Library of Congress: July 19: This article gives a comprehensive independent overview of the new law, including links to articles detailing reaction to it from collectors and the trade. The second link below this summary relates to The Art Newspaper’s June 27 article, which quotes Vincent Geerling and looks at the likely impact of the law change.
Museums win bid to keep antiquities
Chicago Daily Law Bulletin: July 20: A federal court has ruled that victims of a terror attack financed by Iran cannot claims Persian artefacts in lieu of compensation against the country.
The eight victims had hoped to take possession of museum collections held by the Field Museum of Natural History and the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute with a view to selling them to meet the $17.5m judgment against Iran.
However, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the collections should not be handed over. Iran does not own two of them, while a third collection, which it does own, was returned some time ago.
A fourth collection, the Persepolis Collection, includes about 30,000 clay tablets and fragments that Iran loaned to the Oriental Institute in 1937 for research, translation and cataloguing, the panel wrote.
Now in the possession of the University of Chicago, it is immune from seizure under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act because it is the property of a foreign state, the court ruled.
The panel conceded there are exceptions to this general rule.
A litigant seeking to satisfy a judgment against a foreign state may take property “used for a commercial activity in the United States,” Judge Diane S. Sykes wrote for the panel, quoting Section 1610(a) of the FSIA.
However, she wrote, Iran has not used the artifacts in the Persepolis Collection for any commercial purpose.
Hildesheim Museum to close exhibition early as collectors withdraw loans fearful of new German cultural protection law
Roemer Und Pulizaeus Museum website: The Roemer and Pelizaeus Museum in Hildesheim has had to close a major exhibition after collectors withdrew their loans following the approval of Germany’s new Cultural Property Protection Act.
Treasures of the Emperor – Masterpieces of Chinese Art (1368-1911) had been due to run at the museum near Hanover until January 8 next year but was set to close on July 25 after two Chinese collectors who loaned more than 90% of the exhibits demanded their return.
Their fears echo those of many private collectors throughout Germany who have lent their works of art to museums but are concerned that new export licence rules might prevent them being returned or allowed out of the country.
The uncertainty comes from not knowing whether any of these works will be deemed of ‘national significance’, in which case they will be barred from export altogether.
Germany has yet to set up the 16 regional agencies to supervise this process, each of which might apply different criteria and standards in ruling what ‘national significance’ means.
Museum Director Professor Regine Schulz said: “Of course we understand of our lenders’ fears, and their desire to protect their property. The early closure of this important exhibition is a real problem for us.”
However, the German government has now released a statement saying there should be no cause for concern among collectors because works from abroad, such as those in the exhibition, could not be deemed “of national importance” to Germany under the rules.
Construction of Grand Egyptian Museum to be completed by year’s end and partially opened in mid-2017: Minister of Antiquities
Egypt Daily News: July 22: The Ministry of Antiquities aims to complete construction of the first phase of the Grand Egyptian Museum before the end of the year. The museum will be partially opened by mid-2017. Meanwhile, the ministry is considering a number of proposals and suggestions to increase its resources, following the decline in tourism revenues, which dropped down to EGP 229.8m from EGP 1.273bn in 2010.
Another article stressing how Egypt is looking at ways of raising new revenues from antiquities, not through selling them but by developing museums and archaeological sites for tourists to visit. The initiative is the result of dramatically falling tourist numbers – and revenues – to the country.
Current Hong Kong laws fail the test of heritage protection
Government needs to identify a working definition of the term ‘cultural heritage’ which could be ‘evidence of the achievements of man which should be passed on to future generations’
South China Morning Post: July 25: The lack of a coherent heritage policy in Hong Kong is partially being blamed on the indiscriminate use of the term ‘cultural heritage’, the article argues.
“In fact the term ‘cultural heritage’ has very little meaning in the law of Hong Kong and no clear meaning in international law. The more it is used indiscriminately, the less value it has.
“The heritage law of Hong Kong is clearly outdated and has not developed as part of any coherent policy. The only law which is intended to protect what many might now consider cultural heritage is the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance, which refers to ‘relics’ and ‘monuments’ rather than cultural heritage – not surprising as it was drafted in the early 1970s.”
The article is further critical of international conventions, stating that they are of little use in determining a working definition, “preferring to use vague notions and non-exhaustive lists to prevent offending states”.
Similar problems regarding definitions have blighted trade in the introduction of Germany’s law and have a potentially damaging impact under the UK’s proposed adoption of the relatively loose Hague Convention definition as part of the Cultural Property Bill now passing through parliament.
The SCMP article suggests a solution: “For Hong Kong to show that it is determined to protect and preserve its heritage and culture, the government needs first to identify a working definition of the term ‘cultural heritage’. This might be ‘evidence of the achievements of man which should be passed on to future generations’.”
UK does not believe there are any legal grounds for it to return Kohinoor, says British minister
Scroll.In: July 27: Alok Sharma, the UK’s new new minister of Asia and Pacific affairs, has said that there is no legal case for the UK to return the Kohinoor diamond to India.
Amid speculation that the Indian Government under Narendra Modi is planning to launch a campign to recover the gem, Sharma cited the United Nations convention on restitution of cultural property to support his statement. The rule, adopted in 1970, is considered the guiding principle regarding such disputes.
On April 18, the National Democratic Alliance government had said that India cannot stake claim on the prized diamond as according to the Ministry of Culture, the British did not steal it or forcibly take it from the country. The statement was made to the Supreme Court, which had asked the Centre to clarify its stand on the PIL filed by All India Human Rights & Social Justice Front.
However, sources told ANI that the government is planning to file a new affidavit in the apex court reiterating the country's resolve to bring back the diamond.
Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill: A summary
Lexology.com: Boodle Hatfield (UK law firm): July 27: This article provides a handy analytical summary of the Bill as its stands. It quotes ADA deputy chairman Chris Martin’s concerns about the definition of “cultural property” under the Hague Convention.