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

‘It is difficult to gazette national heritage sites’

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via The Star, 11 October 2018: From Malaysia’s National Archaeology Seminar held last month, a minister from the Federal government says that many archaeological sites cannot be gazetted in the National Heritage Register because the state governments have not registered them for protection.

When the federal government wants to gazette national heritage sites, the biggest hurdle is getting state governments to agree, says Deputy Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Muhammad Bakhtiar Wan Chik.

Malaysia has 965 archaeological sites, of which 822 are on land and 143 underwater. But only nine have ever been gazetted as national heritage sites.

“I’m not sure what the motive is, but before we can gazette a place as national heritage and protect it, we need the states to give consent and some states are a bit slow to agree,” he said.

Source: ‘It is difficult to gazette national heritage sites’ – Nation | The Star Online

Hong Kong news stronger heritage protection laws

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Chinese University of Hong Kong law professor Steven Gallagher discusses the weaknesses in Hong Kong’s current heritage laws.

Current Hong Kong laws fail the test of heritage protection
South China Morning Post, 25 July 2016

Many news stories have focused on disputes and issues involving Hong Kong’s “cultural heritage”.

Recently an underwater archaeology group discovered an ancient stone anchor and bronze cannons in the waters off Hong Kong and called for more government support for archaeological investigation. The demolition of Ho Tung Gardens and the delays caused to the Sha Tin to Central rail project by the discovery of the archaeological remains of a well at the former Sacred Hill in To Kwa Wan are still fresh memories.

High rents and greedy landlords have been accused of forcing out artisan workers and favourite food restaurants, representing loss of intangible cultural heritage. The issue of Queen’s Pier is also ongoing.

The body tasked with protecting heritage for us all, the Antiquities Advisory Board, has been criticised for being ineffective, weak and secretive, and the discovery of the remains of HMS Tamar is being ignored as much as possible.

Full story here.

Is it time for Singapore to have transparent heritage impact assessments?

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Recent excavations at Empress Place, Singapore. Source: Straits Times 20150221

An editorial in Singapore’s Straits Times by two scholars in Singapore’s ancient history discuss the need for heritage impact assessment to help mitigate the irretrievable loss of archaeology from construction work. Personally, it seems strange to me that most of the archaeological work in Singapore has been characterised as rescue archaeology, as opposed to systematic operations that should be required when constructing on what is known as an archaeologically rich and significant area. This suggests that there is little coordination between the heritage and public works agencies, and hence, a need for a transparent heritage impact assessment process.

Recent excavations at Empress Place, Singapore. Source: Straits Times 20150221

Recent excavations at Empress Place, Singapore. Source: Straits Times 20150221

Digging up Singapore’s history
The Straits Times, 21 February 2015

The archaeological excavation at Empress Place, which Minister Lawrence Wong visited last week, is the latest in a series of excavations started 30 years ago.

Other places recently excavated include the back of the Victoria Theatre before its renovation, and the space between the old Supreme Court and City Hall before it was built over to connect the two buildings for a National Art Gallery.

The driving force behind these excavations, 30 years ago and today, remains the same. It is to search for and recover any historical artefacts before redevelopment takes place. The limited, albeit detailed, Chinese and South-east Asian historical records suggest that a settlement existed at the mouth of the Singapore River since the end of the 13th century, which grew during the 14th century into a kingdom and port-city called Singapura, lasting for a century. Apart from Sir Stamford Raffles and John Crawfurd, the second governor of Singapore, who gave early 19th century eyewitness accounts of the remnants of this settlement, there has been no further confirming evidence.

It was only in 1984 that such evidence was recovered when the old National Museum invited Dr John N. Miksic, an archaeologist then teaching in Indonesia, to conduct a trial excavation on Fort Canning, a site which had been extensively developed and landscaped. Against the odds, an undisturbed layer of soil and earth datable to the 14th century was found around the old Keramat Iskandar Shah. Further excavations over the years have confirmed the conclusions drawn by historians from historical texts on Singapore’s 700-year legacy.

Full story here.

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Indonesia still undecided on ratifying underwater heritage convention

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After last month’s furore over the attempted sale of the Cirebon shipwreck haul, Indonesia still has an undecided stance towards ratifying the UNESCO convention on underwater cultural heritage. Even more surprising is that Cambodia is the only country in Asia that has ratified the convention!

RI undecided on underwater heritage convention
Jakarta Post, 03 June 2010
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Philippines strengthens protection of historical and cultural heritage through legislation

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New legislation signed by the Philippine president gives new powers to the National Historical Council of the Philippines to oversee all matters relating to Philippine history.

New law strengthens agency’s efforts to preserve historical, cultural heritage
Business World, 30 May 2010
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Calls for better legislation to protect Indonesia's sunken treasures

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Indonesia faces increased calls for better legislation to monitor and protect underwater treasures found in its waters, in the wake of the recent auction attempt of the Cirebon shipwreck treasures.

Indonesia Criticized for Murky Rules on Sunken Treasures
Jakarta Globe, 14 May 2010
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Vietnam needs new legislation to protect relics

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The Culture, Sports and Tourism Minister of Vietnam has highlighted the need for new legislation to meet the demands of heritage conservation work, especially in the light that many conservation projects do not meet quality standards and have even led to the damaging of some of the relics.

Legislation to save nation’s heritage [Link no longer active]
Viet Nam News, 13 April 2009
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