Showing posts with label UNIDROIT. Show all posts
Showing posts with label UNIDROIT. Show all posts

October 18, 2020

Regulatory Comparison: How is the 19th century merchant shipping scene similar to today's ancient art market.

East Indiamen Madagascar by Thomas Goldsworth Dutton (fl 1840)
National Maritime Museum Greenwich, London

A lesson from our regulatory past. 

The more ship you can see, the higher the vessel sits in the water.

The less ship you can see, the lower the vessel sits in the water.

If you own a ship, you make more money by transporting more goods. 

Logistically, ships sitting high in the water carry less cargo.  Those seen sitting low in the water carry more cargo. 

Either is ok when the ship is moored safely within a harbor and in most cases when the weather is calm. 

But when a large vessel sets out to sea, the heavier ship, sitting lower in the water, suffers from increasing drag as it moves. It is generally less responsive to steering making a heavily laden ship more difficult to manage in rough seas.  If an overly-laden vessel gets caught in a storm, it's easier for it to take on water and also to sink.

When ships sink, sailors and passengers drown and cargo is lost to the murky depths.  But the insurance fees paid out to the voyage's financers and ship owners were designed to cover such financial losses, so for the shipping industry, more cargo (still) equalled = more money.

That’s how it was in nineteenth-century Britain. 

A ship's crew and passengers might die, but the ship's backers and owners were still compensated financially through marine insurance.  Likewise, due to the booming trade market of the period, the demand for marine insurance created opportunities for profit for both the marine merchants and their voyage underwriters, who in turn profited from high premia which more than compensated the underwriters for the losses incurred when an insured merchant's vessel sunk. 

In 1871 alone 856 ships sank off the coast of Britain. Nearly 2000 sailors and an unknown number of passengers drowned at sea.  

Profit-driven, many shipping barons were unpulsed, more interested in how and when the merchandise got from point "A" to point "B".  More so, with the death of all hands on deck, it was sometimes impossible to verify or disprove events which had occurred in distant ports or on the rough open sea.  To them, the risk to human lives was not a particularly motivating factor to change the status quo of overloading.  Humans may have been drowning, but merchants and many of their underwriters were still making fortunes. 

Sailors often referred to these overly-laden vessels as coffin ships, a way to describe a ship that was overinsured and worth more to its owners sunk than afloat. To them, merchants turning a blind eye to the coffin ships represented the depths to which the merchants operating in the market could stoop.  

But despite their worries, it was an offense for a sailor to refuse to sail, and to do so could mean many months, or even years, in the gaols.  Such were the state of affairs that in 1871 alone, 1628 sailors, including two complete crews, were jailed for refusing to work on overladen merchant vessels.  For many, despite their reluctance and awareness of the awful toll on human life aboard such ships, desperation drove their decisions, forcing them to agree to work as the crew, making them part of an equation that valued commerce and merchandise over humanity. 

Despite the sometimes strident calls for help from worried seamen and the families of those lost at sea, the general consuming public seemed blindly unaware or disinterested in the problem.  That is apart from one man, Samuel Plimsoll, an English social reformer.

Plimsoll fought for a safe loading line on all ships to be passed into law on all English ships and asked for regulation to prevent the overloading of cargo encouraged by the ships' greedy owners.  Plimsoll's principle was based on one already known by seamen as far back as the Middle Ages.  Back then, ships from Genoa, Italy in the Venetian Republic, and the Hanseatic League, required ships to show a load line indicating how heavy the vessel was weighed down with merchandise. 

Yet Plimsoll's reasonable proposal met with powerful opposition and earned him the hatred of many shipowners.

Many of the most vocal members of parliament against reforms were these self-same shipowners and underwriters; men more intent on maximizing their profit than bowing to the expense of morally and ethical moderation.  From their point of view, shipping was a lucrative business couched in the notion of free trade. Their profits should not be bogged down under the weight of moral and ethical considerations.  

Fortunately, in 1876, after years of fighting, Plimsoll's calls for reforms succeeded and Britain's Parliament passed the Unseaworthy Ships Bill into law.  But while this Act required a series of 'lines' to be painted on the ship to show the maximum loading point it didn't specify where.  As a result, some unscrupulous shipowners chose to paint the load line in areas of the ship more convenient and continued this ruse, to disguise their overloaded vessels. 

It was not until 1890 that the country's Board of Trade officials finally applied the regulation that every ship must have a clearly visible Plimsoll linea line on a ship's hull, in a very specific place, which indicates the maximum safe draught, and therefore the minimum freeboard for the vessel in various operating conditions when loaded with cargo.

I suppose one could draw a few parallels between this maritime story and today’s art merchant climate, where the art market's focus seems to discourage regulatory oversight in favor of self-regulation, ensuring the free movement of merchandise. Likewise, many collectors seem oblivious to, or disinterested in, the problem of illicit trafficking. 

Despite cultural Plimsoll lines, like local legislation and international conventions such as the UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property and the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects, disreputable commercial actors in the art market continue to conduct commerce outside calculated ethical lines. 

And like the sailors on ships, desperation sometimes drives the decisions of subsistence looters in source countries who facilitate the supply chain, and remain as actors to the commerce equation, despite whatever harsh penalties they might face. 

It’s hard to envisage a non-legislative solution that will protect commerce and protect culture at risk.  For now, the foxes in charge of the art market hen house are woefully incapable of self-regulating, and are resistant to the idea that there is even a problem worthy of being addressed. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

h/t to Dave Trott for his details on shipping regulations and statistics. 

February 9, 2019

Letter from the UN Chair of the Security Council Committee concerning Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals and their involvement in heritage plunder


In a letter dated 15 January 2019, signed by Dian Triansyah Djani, the UN Chair of the Security Council Committee, pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999), 1989 (2011) and 2253 (2015) concerning Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals, groups, undertakings and entities and addressed to the President of the Security Council the chair writes...

Section III82. Despite systematic consultation with Member States, the Monitoring Team has been unable to establish that ISIL ever generated significant funds from human slavery or sexual violence, although it was certainly massively engaged in such crimes on a basis internal to the so-called “caliphate”. Member States also broadly share the analysis that ISIL did not systematically or fully exploit the funding potential of looting and trading in antiquities and cultural goods. Nevertheless, it will not be possible to draw firm conclusions on this until more is known about what was taken, and until enhanced detection and enforcement efforts have yielded more information.

While the 25-page report goes on in Section B. Resolution 2347 (2017) on Cultural Heritage to mention the strategic and exemplary training conducted by the World Customs Organization, who have launched a training handbook on the prevention of illicit trafficking of cultural heritage, it omits other UN trainings facilitated by UNESCO such as the Countering Antiquities Trafficking in the Mashreq: A Training Program for Specialists Working to Deter Cultural Property Theft and the Illicit Trafficking of Antiquities program.  

This 5-day training, animated by experts from UNESCO, UNIDROIT, INTERPOL, ICOM, UNODC and four trainers from ARCA (Association for Research into Crimes against Art), was structured around four modules, each designed to address issues of common concern in affected source and transit countries. The topics addressed included: Museum and Site Risk Management and Hazard Mitigation; Art Crime Policing and Law; The Conflict Antiquities Trade - Characterizing and Anticipating Trafficking of Cultural Heritage and Cultural Property Crimes in the Context of Contemporary Armed Conflicts; The International Art Market and The Trade in Unprovenanced Antiquities - The Interface Between Legal and Illegal Actors in Source and Market Countries.

Sessions for Countering Antiquities Trafficking in the Mashreq consisted of a mixture of lecture presentations involving art security awareness briefings, comprehensive discussions and practical demonstrations that all have the same primary objective – to pass on specialist knowledge while allowing a limited amount of time for practical, first-hand discourse drawing on the participants own experiences thereby allowing for contemplation and further debate.

ARCA's collaboration on this in-country UNESCO training for representatives from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey is not the only UN facilitated training omitted from this report, nor is it the only non UN training program which has been developed to assist in the battle against plunder in conflict.  

ARCA also provides intensive Minerva Scholarship training for eleven weeks in Italy for Levant heritage professionals, established in response to scholarly concerns of heritage destruction and looting throughout Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen.  Other NGO's, likewise have also supported and/or conducted training to assist in this critical area of concern.  

Underscoring for a second time, the UN Chair's statement:

"it will not be possible to draw firm conclusions on this until more is known about what was taken, and until enhanced detection and enforcement efforts have yielded more information." 

Most endeavours to establish such information have, are, and will continue to be seriously hampered by chronic underfunding.  This makes it difficult, if not impossible, for member states or UN agencies and their NGO partners and affiliate supporting organisations to respond effectively to the scale and scope of the problem. 

June 10, 2018

Syria has ratified the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects.

The smashed face of a statue found on the floor of the Palmyra museum in the Syrian city of Tadmur, Homs Governate,  March 31, 2016. Image Credit - Joseph Eid
To address the ongoing issue of illicit trafficking of Syrian cultural property, the country has now ratified the UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects.   Adopted on 24 June 1995, representatives of over seventy states met in Rome with an ambitious goal aimed at harmonizing the rules of private law of various states parties affecting the restitution and return of cultural objects between states party to the Convention to their country of origin. 

The aim of UNIDROIT (is clearly stated in Paragraph 4 of its preamble.  That that is: to contribute effectively to the fight against the illicit trade in cultural objects by establishing common, minimal legal rules for the restitution and return of cultural objects between contracting states with the objective of improving the preservation and protection of cultural heritage.  

At present, including Syria, there are now forty-three states party signatories to the Convention. 

With Syria's deposit of the instrument of accession to the UNIDROIT Convention of 1995 at the Italian Ministero degli Affari Esteri e della Cooperazione Internazionale (Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation) on 27 April 2018, the UNIDROIT Convention will enter into force for the Syrian Arab Republic on 1 October 2018.

The full text of the Convention is available here.

Extracted from the UNIDROIT website:


For years, many middle eastern countries failed to consider ratification of UNIDROIT working under the false assumption that the initiative for the Convention on the protection of cultural property was a manoeuvre by “art importing” countries to weaken the UNESCO Convention. Others (wrongly) misinterpreted the nature of the agreement as an extension of the UNESCO Convention at the behest of the “exporting” States.   The reality is quite different as Marina Schneider, Senior Legal Officer and Treaty Depositary explains.  In trainings conducted throughout the globe, Ms. Schneider explains that it was at UNESCO’s request that UNIDROIT (International Institute for the Unification of Private Law) took up the matter of illicit traffic in cultural movables given the enormous complexity of legislation as it relates to the phenomenon of illicit trafficking. 

For a “live” status map of the Signatory and State parties to the UNIDROIT Convention please see the UNIDROIT website here: https://www.unidroit.org/status-cp?id=1769
The ratification of the UNIDROIT convention will allow Syria to fight more effectively, together with other signatory States, against theft, import, export and illegal transfer of ownership of its cultural patrimony.   Let's hope Iraq will sign on next.