July 12, 2008

Following the Egyptian example for recovery of looted artefacts

Posted at 10:00 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

Of all the African countries, Egypt has been by far the most successful in recovering their looted artefacts (three thousand in the last three years) from abroad. By studying the way in which they have operated, it is possible for other nations to see more clearly how their own efforts in this area could be re-structured to make them more successful. It is worth bearing in mind though that whilst Egypt has had many successes, it still hasn’t had any luck in securing even short term loans of some of its most treasured artefacts such as the Rosetta Stone & the bust of Nefertiti.


Recovering stolen cultural objects – the Egyptian example
Written by Dr. Kwame Opoku
Friday, 11 July 2008

From the information we have so far at our disposal, it seems the Egyptians are the most advanced among the Africans when it comes to the question of recovery of stolen or illegally exported cultural items. They seem in any case to be the best organized and the most active in pursuing this objective no matter the obstacles.

And the obstacles here are indeed great. One must contest with the long entrenched European ideology that Western Europe has a God-given right and indeed duty to collect and supervise all the cultural achievements of mankind. The concrete expression of this ideology is found in the ideology of the defendants of the so-called “universal museum”. There are also the large investments in antiquities and the powerful illicit trade in 3000 artefacts antiquities.

The Supreme Council of Antiquities, under the leadership of its Secretary-General, the energetic Zahi Hawass, an archaeologist by profession and the most famous Egyptologist of our times, has led the campaign to recover Egypt’s stolen treasures, including the bust of Nefertiti, now in the Altes Museum, Berlin and the Rosetta Stone, now in the British Museum, London. Also on his list are: the zodiac ceiling painting from the Dendera Temple, now in the Louvre, Paris, the bust of Ankhhaf (the architect of the Chephren Pyramid, left), and the statue of Hemiunu (right below), nephew of the Pharaoh Khufu and builder of the largest pyramid, Great Pyramid at Giza. Hawass has informed all those holding Egyptian cultural objects acquired under dubious circumstances of his intentions and, as could be expected, there is great reluctance and resistance on the part of many Western museums to do the correct thing: return these objects. The Germans, as readers know, do not even want to contemplate the eventual return of the Egyptian Queen Nefertiti to her home. The British are also not in a hurry and do not envisage this eventuality.

The article below from Al Ahram shows that the Egyptians have made considerable progress in this matter. The Egyptians have succeeded in recovering some 3000 artefacts over the last six years. How many other African countries can boast of a similar success?

Will the rest of the African Continent learn from the Egyptian experience? There is no doubt that the claims for restitution are more effectively pursued when all such activities are centralized in a body such as the Supreme Council on Antiquities, with considerable authority and under an efficient leadership. The Supreme Council is part of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, presided over by the Minister Foreign of Affairs but the effective work is done under the leadership of its Secretary-General, who heads a well-organized Secretariat.

One need not necessarily agree with the views of Hawass on the origins of the ancient Egyptians and various other issues but there is no way one can deny the fact that under his leadership, Egypt has been able to take control of its antiquities and has been able to put an end to the situation where most Western countries regarded and treated Egypt as some sort of archaeological supermarket where they could go in and take whatever they wanted. These days Zahi Hawass determines who can and who cannot go to Egypt to excavate and where. He has thrown out a British archaeologist from working in Egypt and has refused permission to two French architects who wanted to place a camera in the floor of the Great Pyramid in search of a possible chamber. Some Germans archaeologists have also been banned from excavating in Egypt. How many other African States can say they control who comes in and what goes out of their countries?

Kwame Opoku.7 July, 2008.

“Wrapping up smuggled goods”
,Al-Aharam,3-9 July 2008

Six months after its establishment, the National Committee to Return Smuggled Antiquities has convened for the first time. Nevine El-Aref attended the meeting

The Ministry of Culture and the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) have been at the forefront of a campaign since 2002 to stamp out the trade in artefacts illegally smuggled from Egypt and bring them back home. To put the campaign into effect, the SCA has created a new department in its administrative body, the National Committee to Return Smuggled Antiquities (NCRSA), to list all the objects that have been illegally smuggled out of the country together with those missing from archaeological storehouses and museums. It also traces all reports provided by Egypt’s embassies and consulates abroad of possible infringements of the antiquities law, and from time to time it checks the sale catalogues of well known auction houses such as Bonhams and Christies.

By following these measures the SCA has succeeded in recovering 3,000 artefacts over the last six years. Of these, 619 items came from Heathrow airport in London, 398 from Geneva and two from Basel, seven statues from Italy, a unique, ancient Egyptian relief from Belgium, and others from the United States, Holland, Germany, France and Canada.

However, three main obstacles still stand against the return of all Egypt’s stolen and illegally smuggled antiquities. The limited time between learning of the sale of a smuggled object and the auction sometimes means it cannot be prevented from entering at the proper time, and it is difficult to provide the paperwork that proves the Egypt nation owns an object since most of the smuggled pieces are from illicit excavations and are not archaeologically documented. Some countries abroad do not have local laws condemning the antiquities trade.

To bridge the obstacles, facilitate the SCA’s mission to return Egypt’s smuggled heritage and to coordinate all the efforts to reach this goal, the NCRSA was created and formed last December by a decree from the prime minister. The committee, headed by SCA’s Secretary-General Zahi Hawass, consists of representatives from all the authorities concerned: the ministries of information, foreign affairs, international cooperation and justice as well as the SCA’s legal consultant and representative from national security and the prosecutor-general. Two public figures with an interest in archaeology, Nabil El-Arabi, Egypt’s permanent representative in UNESCO, and Abdel-Raouf El-Ridi, head of Egypt’s Council for Foreign Relations, are also on the committee.

The SCA’s legal consultant Ashraf El-Ashmawi told Al-Ahram Weekly that events were now moving forward. “The SCA has bridged the last obstacle by signing bilateral agreements with several foreign countries in the field of recovering stolen cultural heritage or illegally smuggled [items], as well as exchanging security information in the field and facilitating all procedures required to return these objects,” El-Ashmawi said. He explained that Egypt had already signed agreements with Italy, Cyprus, Denmark, Cuba, Kazakhstan, Jordan, Peru and Switzerland, and endeavours were currently taken to sign agreements with the US, the United Kingdom and Germany.

Hawass says the NCRSA has two missions to accomplish on the international and local levels. On the international level, he says, the committee will call all foreign nations and states to halt the trade in antiquities and encourage all nations to participate in the 1970 UNESCO convention, which declared such trade as a crime. It will also have direct contact with other countries to discuss such issues, as well as collaborating with UNESCO in an attempt to promote the idea that cultural heritage is a shared patrimony. This in its turn will put pressure on all countries to tighten security in the antiquities trade and among traders. The NCRSA will also have connection with all those in direct contact with smuggled antiquities, including auction houses and Interpol, in order to shorten the time taken for paperwork.

On the local level, the NCRSA will raise the awareness of Egyptians for their heritage and its importance through history. This will be implemented through establishing seminars and open discussions highlighting such subjects, as well as organising a touring archaeological exhibition to visit towns in Egypt and publishing a periodical newsletter.

During its first meeting NCRSA members discussed several issues, among which was Egypt’s participation in the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law convention. The institute, known as UNIDROIT, is an independent intergovernmental organisation whose purpose is to study needs and methods for modernising, harmonising, and coordinating private international law, in particular commercial law between states, and to draft international conventions to address these needs. Set up in 1926 as an auxiliary organ of the League of Nations, the institute was re-established in 1940 (following the demise of the League of Nations) on the basis of a multilateral agreement, the UNIDROIT Statute. Its seat is in Rome, Italy.

Membership of UNIDROIT is restricted to those states that accede to the UNIDROIT Statute. UNIDROIT’s 61 member states are drawn from five continents and represent a variety of legal, economic, and political systems as well as different cultural backgrounds.

Over the years UNIDROIT has prepared international conventions adopted by diplomatic conferences convened by its member states. These have been:

– Convention relating to a Uniform Law on the International Sale of Goods (The Hague, 1964).

– Convention relating to a Uniform Law on the Formation of Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (The Hague, 1964).

– International Convention on Travel Contracts (Brussels, 1970).

– Convention providing a Uniform Law on the Form of an International Will (Washington, D.C., 1973).

– Convention on Agency in the International Sale of Goods (Geneva, 1983).

– UNIDROIT Convention on International Financial Leasing (Ottawa, 1988).

– UNIDROIT Convention on International Factoring (Ottawa, 1988), UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects (Rome, 1995).

– Convention on International Interests in Mobile Equipment (Cape Town, 2001).

– Protocol to the Convention on International Interests in Mobile Equipment on Matters Specific to Aircraft Equipment (Cape Town, 2001).

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1 Comment »


    11.24.08 at 12:41 pm

    Please, let me ask your kind person for assistance in getting in touch with
    Dr and Judge Nabil El Arabi(the Egyptian Lawyer and Judge).
    Would you refer me to his electronic address ?

    Thanks for your Attention
    YASMINE(Algeria univ law shool)

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