February 2, 2006
Vol. 25 No. 9

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    Scholars to explore protocol for defending cultural heritage

    By William Harms
    News Office

    As the plundering of artifacts continues in Iraq, the work that University scholars and others have done to protect them will be the focus of a conference titled, “Protecting Cultural Heritage: International Law after the War in Iraq.”

    The conference, which will take place at 3 p.m., Friday, Feb. 3, in the Weymouth Kirkland Courtroom at the Law School, will examine shortcomings in the international legal framework built over the last century to prevent looting and destruction of cultural property in times of war. McGuire Gibson, Professor in the Oriental Institute, as well as other academics, called international attention to the pillaging of Iraq’s National Museum in the early weeks of the war in Iraq. They also drew attention to the plundering at archaeological sites throughout the country that took place as a result of the war.

    Gibson will be a panelist at the conference, as will Marine Reserve Col. Matthew Bogdanos, who was in charge of investigating the museum looting and who is the author of Thieves of Baghdad, a book about the incident.

    The looting of antiquities in the aftermath of war has become common, said conference panelist Lawrence Rothfield, Associate Professor in English Language & Literature, and Faculty Director of the Cultural Policy Center.

    “The list of recently looted sites includes Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, Bosnia’s churches and Karwar, often described as ‘Afghanistan’s Pompeii,’” said Rothfield, who is also a principal organizer of the conference. “But the point of departure for a policy discussion on wartime looting must be Iraq, where following our intervention the cradle of civilization is now being systematically robbed.”

    Existing international law provides several legal instruments intended to protect cultural heritage during armed conflict and occupation. “However, these international conventions must be evaluated in light of changes in how wars are fought; changes in cultural resource management techniques used to preserve historic monuments and archaeological sites; and our current understanding of the interaction between warfare and the international antiquities market,” Rothfield said.

    Panelists will consider the legal status of the 1954 Hague Convention, its applicability to the events in Iraq and proposals for a new protocol to the Hague Convention designed to address the problems that arose in Iraq. The need for a new protocol is urgent given the possibility of war in other regions rich in cultural heritage resources, Rothfield said.

    Eric Posner, Professor in the Law School, will serve as a respondent to the questions and concerns of the discussion, while Kenneth Dam, the Max Pam Professor Emeritus and Senior Lecturer in the Law School, will moderate.

    Other panelists will be Patrick Boylan, emeritus professor of heritage policy and management, City University, London; Patty Gerstenblith, professor, DePaul University College of Law and legal counsel for the Archeological Institute of America; and Jan Hladik, Program Specialist, Cultural Heritage Division, UNESCO.

    To register, visit http://culturalpolicy.uchicago.edu or call (773) 702-4407.