Cultural Property Agreement (CPA): India-US Work on Pact for Quick Return of Stolen Antiquities

27-11-2023

09:17 AM

timer
1 min read
Cultural Property Agreement (CPA): India-US Work on Pact for Quick Return of Stolen Antiquities Blog Image

What’s in Today’s Article?

  • Why in News?
  • Indian Laws Ensuring Repatriation of Antiquities
  • How are Artefacts of Indian Origin Repatriated?
  • Background of the Cultural Property Agreement (CPA)
  • About the Cultural Property Agreement (CPA)
  • Significance of the Cultural Property Agreement (CPA)

Why in News?

  • India is close to signing an agreement - the Cultural Property Agreement (CPA) - with the United States under which the process for the return of stolen antiquities will be hugely simplified.

Indian Laws Ensuring Repatriation of Antiquities

  • What is antiquity?
    • The Antiquities and Art Treasures Act (AATA) 1972 defines antiquity as any coin, sculpture, painting, epigraph or other work of art or craftsmanship that has been in existence for not less than 100 years.
      • For manuscript, record or other document which is of scientific, historical, literary or aesthetic value, this duration isnot less than 75 years.
    • The UNESCO 1970 Convention defines cultural property as the one designated by countries having importance for archaeology, prehistory, history, literature, art or science.
  • Evolution of law after independence:
    • All the Union, State and Concurrent Lists of the 7TH Schedule of the Indian Constitution deal with the country’s heritage.
    • The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act was enacted in 1958 and a few incidents of theft of antiquities prompted the government to enact the AATA 1972.
  • Salient provisions of the AATA 1972:
    • No person (other than the central government) can export any antiquity or art treasure.
    • No person can carry on the business of selling any antiquity except in accordance with the terms and conditions of a licence granted by the ASI.
    • Every person who owns, controls or is in possession of any antiquity shall register such antiquity and obtain a certificate.

How are Artefacts of Indian Origin Repatriated?

  • Presently, once an artefact of Indian origin is located in a foreign country, its provenance has to be established through documents such as FIRs and pictorial evidence.
  • The objects are then verified by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) - the custodian of all antiquities - in the host country before they can be brought back home.
  • A team of experts from the ASI visits the country and verifies the objects on the basis of their knowledge, iconography and wear-and-tear marks. There is no time limit for this process. 

Background of the Cultural Property Agreement (CPA)

  • Over the last few years, India has placed a renewed emphasis on repatriation of its heritage, with the Indian PM raising the issue with various world leaders and multilateral agencies during his foreign visits.
  • According to government data, over 400 antiquities have been brought back to India since 2014.
  • The protection and return of cultural property isa priority for India and for the US, and the US has been working closely with the Union Ministry of Culture and the Indian Embassy in Washington on the CPA for close to two years.
  • It was during the Indian PM’s state visit to the US (in June 2023) that the two countries reached an understanding to work on this agreement.
  • Once a country makes a request for an agreement, the request is considered by the White House-appointed Cultural Property Advisory Committee, which makes a recommendation to the Department of State.
    • The next step for India is to have its request considered before this Committee.

About the Cultural Property Agreement (CPA)

  • The agreement imposes import restrictions that stop looted and stolen cultural property from entering the US while encouraging the legal sharing of such objects for scientific, cultural, and educational purposes.
  • How do the import restrictions work?
    • As per the agreement, the US will intercept smuggled goods at the border and return them expeditiously.
    • When objects are seized and forfeited under import restrictions, there is a simplified process for returning objects to the partner country.
    • The partner country does not have to prove the item is theirs. Rather, the US automatically offers it to them for return.

Significance of the Cultural Property Agreement (CPA)

  • A bilateral CPA would help to prevent illegal trafficking of cultural property from India to the US.
  • This will also eliminate key sources of funding for terrorists and transnational organised crime.
  • Instead of India having to prove that the item in question belongs to it, the US will automatically offer it for return once the CPA comes through.
    • The verification stage - which is generally most time-consuming - can also be done away with in many cases.
    • This will simplify the current process of repatriation and ensure early return of antiquities.
  • From this template agreement, India is looking to sign such agreements with several countries where a lot of Indian art objects are believed to have been smuggled.

Q1) What is the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (AMASR) Act?

The AMASR Act is an act of the Parliament of India that provides for the preservation of ancient and historical monuments and archaeological sites and remains of national importance. It was passed in 1958 and the Archaeological Survey of India functions under the provisions of this act.

Q2)  What is the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI)?

The ASI, under the Ministry of Culture, is the premier organization for the archaeological research and protection of the cultural heritage of the nation.


Source: India, US work on pact for quick return of stolen antiquities