Gov't moving to protect cultural properties from illicit trading, theft

Thursday, March 22, 2018

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OLIVIA Grange says the Government would be moving to amend legislation and ratify international conventions as part of a coordinated response to the theft and export of invaluable cultural artefacts that belong to the people of Jamaica.

Addressing the opening of a workshop being hosted by the Ministry of Gender, Culture, Entertainment and Sport to sensitise stakeholders on the Government's proposed response to the pilfering and illicit export of cultural properties, the portfolio minister explained that Jamaica's existing legislative regime does not address trade in cultural material per se, and all cultural material are not protected under the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT) Act.

“But we are moving to change that. In this regard, we will be proposing amendments to the JNHT Act to address the more fundamental legal issues,” Minister Grange is quoted as saying in a release.

The culture minister said Jamaica's efforts would not stop with amending the JNHT Act, but that action would be taken through ratification of international conventions which would be the focus of the workshop discussions.

“We have been studying, with the aim of ratifying, two conventions to deal with the illicit trafficking of cultural heritage: The UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property; and The UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects

“Both conventions support each other. The UNESCO Convention, in establishing a framework for international cooperation, takes preventative measures against illicit trade of declared/designated cultural property and imposes provisions for the return/restitution to the place of origin. And the UNIDROIT Convention underpins the provision of the UNESCO Convention in the area of return and restitution of cultural objects,” Grange said.

The minister also said it was critical that key stakeholders, including customs agents, members of the security forces, cultural regulators and practitioners, as well as collectors are engaged in efforts to protect Jamaica's material cultural heritage, both inside and outside of the country's borders.

She said wide consultations will help in determining “what constitutes the legal transfer of significant cultural objects; what cultural objects cannot leave the country; how we will limit the illicit movement of artefacts within Jamaica; how to restrict/contain the removal of artefacts from archaeological sites; how to facilitate the sharing of private collections with the Jamaican public; and how to prevent the loss (destruction and export) of cultural heritage objects”.

Minister Grange shared with her audience that in 2016, a team of archaeologists unearthed three whole skeletons, four zemís, over 1,000 ceramic sherds, and thousands of shells at a site in St Catherine.

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