Showing posts with label U. S. State Department. Show all posts
Showing posts with label U. S. State Department. Show all posts

October 13, 2017

The United States Withdraws From UNESCO - Statements from the US State Department and UNESCO DG

Issued by the United States Department of State on 10/12/2017 09:10 AM EDT.

Press Statement
Heather Nauert 
Department Spokesperson
Washington, DC

On October 12, 2017, the Department of State notified UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova of the U.S. decision to withdraw from the organization and to seek to establish a permanent observer mission to UNESCO. This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects U.S. concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO.

The United States indicated to the Director General its desire to remain engaged with UNESCO as a non-member observer state in order to contribute U.S. views, perspectives and expertise on some of the important issues undertaken by the organization, including the protection of world heritage, advocating for press freedoms, and promoting scientific collaboration and education.

Pursuant to Article II(6) of the UNESCO Constitution, U.S. withdrawal will take effect on December 31, 2018. The United States will remain a full member of UNESCO until that time.



After receiving official notification by the United States Secretary of State, Mr Rex Tillerson, as UNESCO Director-General, I wish to express profound regret at the decision of the United States of America to withdraw from UNESCO.

Universality is critical to UNESCO’s mission to strengthen international peace and security in the face of hatred and violence, to defend human rights and dignity.

In 2011, when payment of membership contributions was suspended at the 36th session of the UNESCO General Conference, I said I was convinced UNESCO had never mattered as much for the United States, or the United States for UNESCO.

This is all the more true today, when the rise of violent extremism and terrorism calls for new long-term responses for peace and security, to counter racism and antisemitism, to fight ignorance and discrimination.

I believe UNESCO’s work to advance literacy and quality education is shared by the American people.

I believe UNESCO’s action to harness new technologies to enhance learning is shared by the American people.

I believe UNESCO’s action to enhance scientific cooperation, for ocean sustainability, is shared by the American people.

I believe UNESCO’s action to promote freedom of expression, to defend the safety of journalists, is shared by the American people.

I believe UNESCO’s action to empower girls and women as change-makers, as peacebuilders, is shared by the American people.

I believe UNESCO’s action to bolster societies facing emergencies, disasters and conflicts is shared by the American people.

Despite the withholding of funding, since 2011, we have deepened the partnership between the United States and UNESCO, which has never been so meaningful.

Together, we have worked to protect humanity’s shared cultural heritage in the face of terrorist attacks and to prevent violent extremism through education and media literacy.

Together, we worked with the late Samuel Pisar, Honorary Ambassador and Special Envoy for Holocaust Education, to promote education for remembrance of the Holocaust across the world as the means to fight antisemitism and genocide today, including with, amongst others, the UNESCO Chair for Genocide Education at the University of Southern California and the UNESCO Chair on Literacy and Learning at the University of Pennsylvania.

Together, we work with the OSCE to produce new tools for educators against all forms of antisemitism, as we have done to fight anti-Muslim racism in schools.

Together, we launched the Global Partnership for Girls’ and Women’s Education in 2011.

Together, with the American academic community, including 17 UNESCO University Chairs, we have worked to advance literacy, to promote sciences for sustainability, to teach respect for all in schools.

This partnership has been embodied in our interaction with the United States Geological Survey, with the US Army Corps of Engineers, with United States professional societies, to advance research for the sustainable management of water resources, agriculture.

It has been embodied in the celebration of World Press Freedom Day in Washington D.C in 2011, with the National Endowment for Democracy.

It has been embodied in our cooperation with major private sector companies, with Microsoft, Cisco, Procter & Gamble, Intel, to retain girls in school, to nurture technologies for quality learning.

It has been embodied in the promotion of International Jazz Day, including at the White House in 2016, to celebrate human rights and cultural diversity on the basis of tolerance and respect.

It has been embodied in 23 World Heritage sites, reflecting the universal value of the cultural heritage of the United States, in 30 Biosphere Reserves, embodying the country’s vast and rich biodiversity, in 6 Creative Cities, as a source of innovation and job creation.

The partnership between UNESCO and the United States has been deep, because it has drawn on shared values.

The American poet, diplomat and Librarian of Congress, Archibald MacLeish penned the lines that open UNESCO’s 1945 Constitution: “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.” This vision has never been more relevant.

The United States helped inspire the 1972 UNESCO World Heritage Convention.

In 2002, one year after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the late Russell Train, former Head of the US Environmental Protection Agency and founder of the World Wildlife Fund, who did so much to launch the World Heritage Convention, said: “At this time in history, as the fabric of human society seems increasingly under attack by forces that deny the very existence of a shared heritage, forces that strike at the very heart of our sense of community, I am convinced that World Heritage holds out a contrary and positive vision of human society and our human future.”

UNESCO’s work is key to strengthen the bonds of humanity’s common heritage in the face of forces of hatred and division.

The Statue of Liberty is a World Heritage site because it is a defining symbol of the United States of America, and also because of what it says for people across the world.

Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed, is a World Heritage site, because its message speaks to policy-makers and activists across the globe.

Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon are World Heritage sites, because they are marvels for everyone, in all countries.

This is not just about World Heritage.

UNESCO in itself holds out this “positive vision of human society.”

At the time when the fight against violent extremism calls for renewed investment in education, in dialogue among cultures to prevent hatred, it is deeply regrettable that the United States should withdraw from the United Nations agency leading these issues.

At the time when conflicts continue to tear apart societies across the world, it is deeply regrettable for the United States to withdraw from the United Nations agency promoting education for peace and protecting culture under attack.

This is why I regret the withdrawal of the United States.

This is a loss to UNESCO.

This is a loss to the United Nations family.

This is a loss for multilateralism.

UNESCO’s task is not over, and we will continue taking it forward, to build a 21st century that is more just, peaceful, equitable, and, for this, UNESCO needs the leadership of all States.

UNESCO will continue to work for the universality of this Organization, for the values we share, for the objectives we hold in common, to strengthen a more effective multilateral order and a more peaceful, more just world.

September 12, 2017

Repatriation: United States will return Iraqi Jewish Archive to Iraq in 2018.

Books and documents from the Iraqi Jewish Archive prior to conservation

On May 6, 2003, in the flooded basement of Saddam Hussein’s Mukhabarat headquarters, American soldiers from MET (Mobile Exploitation Team) Alpha, led by now-retired Chief Warrant Officer Richard “Monty” Gonzales, found thousands of Jewish communal and religious books in Arabic and Hebrew that appeared to record the life of Iraq's Jewish community  which flourished for over 2,500 years in the region of Babylonia. Unfortunately, the cache of historic items was discovered floating in hip-deep wastewater in the recently-liberated, bomb-damaged headquarters.

Former Chief Warrant Officer Richard Gonzales in waist-deep
sewage water in the basement of Saddam Hussein’s
Mukhabarat headquarters in Baghdad. Image Credit: Richard Gonzales

For emergency assistance in preserving the trove of books, manuscripts and documents, some dating from the mid-sixteenth to late twentieth century, Doris Hamburg, then Director of Preservation Programs at the United States National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) preservation program was contacted by the Coalition Provisional Author­ity in Baghdad.



Hamburg and Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler, Chief of the Document Conservation Laboratory, in cooperation with the Iraqi officials, recommended freezing the documents as soon as possible as heat and humidity would produce a conservator's worst enemy: mold.  Freezing as a short-term solution is a common method which can quickly stabilize mold infestations until such time as an appropriate treatment to dry out materials can be undertaken.  The ability to freeze documents buys conservators time, allowing fragile material to be preserved until the documents can be sorted with care and worked on in a priority-centric  and carefully informed pace. 

Heeding NARA's advice, those on the ground moved the waterlogged damaged, and by now moldy documents into 27 large steel trunks.  In turn, these 2,700 books and thousands of Jewish paper documents were placed in a requisitioned freezer truck for storage until August 17, 2003 when a deal was struck between NARA and Iraq’s interim government.    

Citing Iraq's Antiquities Law No. 55, Dr Jaber Khalil Ibrahim, Chairman of the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage at the Iraqi Ministry of Culture agreed to send the documents to the United States on a temporary basis, to allow NARA to undertake emergency conservation, on the condition that the material would be returned to Iraq within two years.

As their part of the agreement, NARA agreed to cover overhead costs for administrative functions, lab use, storage and utilities.  The US Military provided the security and transport of the archive from Baghdad to the United States where conservation treatment would occur. 

The trunks were brought to BMS Catastrophe (BMS CAT), a freeze drying company in Ft. Worth Texas utilized by NARA which deals with catastrophic damage and where salvage operations on the documents would start in earnest. Cleaning the documents of mold would be a complicated process, as those working with the materials would be required to wear protective suits for their own health and safety. 

Successful recovery of water-damaged archival materials is usually done in one of two ways: evaporation or sublimation, depending on the state of the water before it passes to vapor and escapes from the materials being conserved.  Water in the wet state can evaporate via air drying but this is not always the optimal method of choice. When freeze dried in controlled atmospheric conditions, water in its solid state, ice, will sublimate and can then be removed from the materials while still in its gaseous phase, without passing through the liquid phase. 

Freeze drying in a vacuum chamber was the conservation method of choice for the Iraqi Jewish Archive given the large numbers of waterlogged and damaged books, some of which had water-sensitive inks and coated paper.  It also limited the problems of bleeding and tidelines on the materials and helps to minimize document shrinkage and brittleness. Ultimately, vacuum freeze drying the texts allowed mold, mud, dirt, and dust to be vacuumed from the surface of the material in a controlled manner, so that conservators could focus their attention on reparations of the archive's contents, prioritizing which objects needed treatment first.  

A lengthy process, the archive's preservation at times has been hampered by funding concerns. As the Iraqi Jewish Archive is not a U.S. govern­ment collection, the United States National Archives and Records Administration funds could not be used for the conservation project.  Outside funding, provided by private donors, foundations or indirectly via other government agencies with authority was needed.

Many philanthropic Jewish organizations balked at funding the conservation and cataloguing initiative knowing that it was highly likely that the collection would ultimately be returned to Baghdad and not remain in the United States or Israel. 

In late 2005, $98,000 was allocated via the National Endowment to the the Center for Jewish History who facilitated the second phase of the preservation project.  To establish preservation priorities for Phase II Susan Duhl and conservation technician were contracted to work under the direction of the National Archives to assess and document the condition of the collection. 

Focusing on proper storage, the pair inventoried the material and took digital photographs used to establish a preliminary digital archive and catalogue, which, with language expertise, could then help set priorities as to what documents were in the collection as well as what actually should be preserved first. 

Experts knowledgeable in Levant and Jewish history met in May 2010 and offered recommendations regarding priorities for preservation, access, and to discuss the potential of an online digital archive and exhi­bitions.

In 2011 the US Department of State allocated an additional 2.97 million for was was to be the final phase of the preservation project.  This funding specified that the project was to be completed in 2014, with the objects to be repatriated June 2014. 

On May 14, 2014, Lukman Faily, the Iraqi ambassador to the US, announced that the Iraqi government had authorized an extension period in which the archive could remain in the United States for a while longer, with key pieces displayed on exhibition.

The four-year extension to keep the Iraqi Jewish Archive in the U.S. is set to expire in September 2018. 

Call it cultural preservation, cultural imperialism, or call it stealing. 

Since the initial transfer of the Iraqi Jewish Archive to the United States, the question of its eventual repatriation to Iraq has been a source of continual contention.  Some argue that Iraq viciously persecuted its Jews and given their displacement, the archive should never be repatriated, belonging instead to the country's displaced jews. 

Others argue that the US is ethically bound to repatriate as they singularly promised the Iraqi Coalition Provisional Author­ity in Baghdad they would do so. 

Speaking to some individuals in Iraq, some feel strongly that the US government intervened solely because of the Jewish nature of the damaged objects.  They resent the special attention this archive received while other important archival documents and rare books belonging to the Iraq National Library and Archive, also impacted by the same type of wastewater flooding, were neglected. [NB the archival materials removed from the INLA were far more extensive than the Jewish documents held by the Mukhabarat and didn't fair as well with regards to preservation]. 

Marc Masurovsky of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project has said that while it appears that the US government is now of a mind to finally return these artifacts to Iraq in 2018, there will be others in clear opposition to that repatriation. 

He writes: 


Sigal Samuel, a self described Iraqi Jew, argues that the archive should go home. 

In a 2014 article in favor of the their return she stated:


On the argument of accessibility by Jewish readers when the artifacts go home Samuel argued:

"I understand that returning the archive to Iraq would make it difficult or impossible for most Jews — particularly Israelis — to safely access it. But even though I myself am saddled with an Israeli name and citizenship, I still don’t think this is an argument for keeping the archive in the U.S. I think it’s an argument for digitization — a process that’s already underway. Or it’s an argument for setting up loans, which would allow the exhibit to be housed permanently in Iraq but travel every few years to this or that Jewish population center.

In digital-age America, we take it for granted that everything we love should be at our fingertips. But relinquishing that luxury sometimes comes with distinct advantages. When it comes to returning this trove to Iraq, the advantages are clear: There, it will serve a vital educational purpose, both for world Jewry and for non-Jewish Iraq."

In a statement to the Jewish Telegraph Service this week, State Department spokesman Pablo Rodriguez said the four-year extension to keep the Iraqi Jewish Archive in the U.S. will expire in September 2018, as will funding for maintaining and transporting the contents of the archive. Outside of a new agreement being drawn up and signed between the Government of Iraq and a temporary host institution or government it looks like the archive is finally going to be repatriated.

Portions of the archive, featuring 23 recovered items and a “behind the scenes” video of the painstaking preservation process will be on display at the Jewish Museum of Maryland from October 15, 2017 until January 15, 2018.

Highlights include:

For more details please see:
https://www.ija.archives.gov/
https://www.archives.gov/files/publications/prologue/2013/fall-winter/ija.pdf

February 1, 2011

The Journal of Art Crime: Contributor Minton on Art Restitution of Nazi-era Looted Art

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

Jennifer Ann Minton wrote an article titled “Art Restitution of Nazi-era Looted Art: A Growing Force in Art and Law” for the fourth issue of The Journal of Art Crime. According to Ms. Minton’s abstract:
“Art restitution is one of the few ways to make reparations to the many victims of the treacheries of World War II. Victims of Nazi-era art theft and their heirs should be able to successfully bring actions in the United States to recovery their possessions as this is usually one of the last options available for recovery. Claims concerning art restitution should be heard in U. S. courts and the statue of limitations and the U. S. Department of State’s Statement of Interest should not be used to preclude adjudication on the merits of these cases. The Court should assert their independence and refuse to dismiss these cases. Recent art restitution settlements and the U. S. Supreme Court’s current involvement shed light onto this topic and help the victims of art theft reclaim what rightfully belongs to them.”
Jennifer Ann Minton is a transplant from Southern California, who decided to make Washington, D. C. her home after graduating from the University of Texas at Austin in 2000. She has worked at the White House and various U. S. departments. She received her J. D. from Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law.

ARCA blog: How would you explain to a layperson – someone who is only conversationally knowledgeable about art law – whether or not claimants have been successful in European courts in recovery Holocaust-looted art and why the American courts seem to be the answer for so many cases?

Ms. Minton: In 2010 the World Jewish Restitution Organization found that out of many named Eastern European countries including Belarus, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia and the Ukraine, only the Czech Republic and Slovakia had both enacted restitution laws governing art and were conducting provenance research. This is an important point as the former Soviet Union indirectly looted the Jews of their art which was confiscated and collected by the Germans during World War II. In many cases there are no records or unreliable records to prove provenance. With artwork now popping up in the United States with more frequency (whether on the auction block, in a museum or in a private collection) rightful claimants are able seek restitution in the U.S. Courts where the statute of limitations may have run out in European countries. Historically the European courts have sided with those that could prove they acquired looted works in “good faith”. Because of the complication in these legal cases involving issues such as the statute of limitations, international law and provenance determination, I believe you will see a general rise of interest in art law from the public. I first became fascinated by the procedural problems in my International Litigation class at Catholic University of America Law School in Washington, D.C. and continued my research after graduation.

ARCA blog: In your article, you discuss Malevich v. City Amsterdam, the facts of the case stretch back to the 1920s when Malevich was forced to leave an exhibition in Berlin and return to St. Petersburg. When the artist died in 1935, was the art he left behind still unsold? And then it was ‘on loan’ to various friends and institutions such as the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Museum of Modern Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York until his heirs began suing for recovery of the art after the collapse of the Soviet Union?

Ms. Minton: In 2003, fourteen of Malevich’s works appeared for the first time in the U.S. On loan from the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, they were part of an exhibition at New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. How did this happen? Malevich became a Master of “Suprematism” in Moscow in 1915. In 1927 the Soviet government demanded he return to St. Petersburg when he was exhibiting his work at the Great Berlin Art Exhibition. The works were left behind with friends and he never returned to Germany, dying in 1935. Little is known how these works were scattered across Europe and then to Canada and the United States except that dozens of pieces were sold by a German architect to the museum in Amsterdam. So, yes, some of the art left behind was sold, at least a portion of it. Where and when these and other looted works will appear is part of the larger story of art restitution and its eventual rise in art law.
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