How to Successfully Fight the Illicit Trade in Stolen Art and Antiquities in Asia? Remove an Antiquated English Law from Hong Kong’s Legal System

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via Antiquities Coalition, December 2018: Prof. Steven Gallagher is the other co-convener on the session about Heritage Management Law and Policy in this year’s SPAFACON. Full policy paper in the link below.

The looting of art and antiquities from Asia is a problem exacerbated by continued demand. This is especially true in China, home to one of the greatest concentrations of millionaires worldwide, where a rapidly growing, newly wealthy class has entered the Asian art and antiquities market, escalating demand in an already thriving sector. Many Asian states that have lost and are continuing to lose cultural patrimony to looting and trafficking have introduced strict laws to combat the removal and unlawful export of art and antiquities from their jurisdiction. Transit and market states, too, have now implemented legal and regulatory frameworks, often based on international law, to deter citizens from dealing in looted art and antiquities or buyers from purchasing such goods when there is any doubt as to their provenance.

However, one of the world’s main markets for Asian art and antiquities, as well as a convenient and much-used transit hub, is a notable exception in having almost no laws intended to prevent this illicit trade: Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s legal and regulatory framework offers little protection for looted art and antiquities, and it retains one obsolete rule of law from its time as a British colony that may not only encourage buyers to purchase looted or stolen works, but also embolden those trying to construct false provenance to pass them through Hong Kong. This law is the rule of market overt, often referred to as a “thieves’ charter,” provided in Hong Kong’s Sale of Goods Ordinance. According to market overt, if someone purchases goods from a shop or market where they are openly on display and are of a type usually sold in such a shop or market, then the buyer acquires good title to the goods so long as they have bought them in good faith. This means that a buyer of looted art or antiquities from a shop usually selling art or antiquities in Hong Kong may resist any attempt by the losing party to recover their lost heritage, and may sell the pieces on to others who will also be safe from any action for recovery.`

Hong Kong has a reputation as one of the world’s leading financial and commercial centers, trusted because of rigorous regulation of its efficient financial and banking services, and confidence in its common law system. It is now also considered one of the world’s foremost Asian art and antiquities markets; however, the retention of an archaic and anachronistic principle of English medieval market law is baffling, especially when this principle has been abolished in the United Kingdom to prevent the flourishing of a “thief’s paradise.”

This policy brief explains some of the problems Asia faces with regard to looting of art and antiquities and loss of cultural heritage, and how Hong Kong’s legal and regulatory framework does little to prevent Hong Kong from being used as a market and transit state for illicitly obtained cultural patrimony. The brief recommends the simple repeal of section 24 of the Sale of Goods Ordinance to abolish the market overt rule in Hong Kong, as well as standardization of import and export laws between Hong Kong and China, strengthened law enforcement of antiquity-related crimes, and the inclusion of the art market in anti-money laundering and counterterrorist financing provisions.

Source: How to Successfully Fight the Illicit Trade in Stolen Art and Antiquities in Asia? Remove an Antiquated English Law from Hong Kong’s Legal System – Think Tank

Indonesian shipwreck trove to be auctioned

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Ming Dynasty jarlet from a shipwreck in the Riau Islands. Source: Detik 20150216

The contents of a shipwreck found in the waters of the Riau Islands will be split between museums in Indonesia and sold to the domestic market. This might be an interesting case to follow as an alternative way to balance the illicit salvage of underwater cultural properties against state intervention and public partnership. The finds from the ship date to the Ming Dynasty, but I am unable to determine much from the archaeology of the ship as the article is in Bahasa Indonesia. (Thanks to Shu from the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre for the heads up).

Ming Dynasty jarlet from a shipwreck in the Riau Islands. Source: Detik 20150216

Ming Dynasty jarlet from a shipwreck in the Riau Islands. Source: Detik 20150216

Harta Karun Kapal Dinasti Ming di Batam akan Dilelang
Detik.com, 16 February 2015

Pemerintah akan mengangkat kapal karam dari Dinasti Ming bermuatan aneka harta di Perairan Bintan, Batam, Kepulauan Riau. Bagaimana nasib harta karunnya nanti?

Kasubid Pendayagunaan Sumber Daya Kelautan KP3K Kementerian Kelautan dan Perikanan (KKP), Rusman Hariyanto mengatakan, usai kapal diangkat proses selanjutnya adalah pengumpulan Benda Muat Kapal Tenggelam (BMKT) dan ditempatkan sementara di salah satu gudang penyimpanan di Bintan.

Beberapa BMKT akan dipilih dan dibagikan ke beberapa museum sebagai sumber pengetahuan sejarah. Setelah itu, BMKT yang tersisa akan dilelang di pasar dalam negeri.

Full story here.

Cambodia's Ministry of Culture says unable to stop sale of Khmer artefacts

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It looks like Cambodia is unable to stop the sale of Khmer artefacts in other countries, or in eBay because such artefacts need to be ‘listed’ as an item of cultural heritage. But such an exercise in listing and inventorying requires far more resources than Cambodia can currently afford. Is this a loophole in the system that needs to be closed?

The Ministry of Culture Says It Is Not Able to Bring Back Khmer Artifacts Put Up for Sale in the United State of America
Deum Ampil, 10 March 2009, translated by the Cambodia Mirror.
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