On May 8, 2014 Cambodian officials continuing their efforts to repatriate a group of statues looted during the country’s civil war joined the Antiquities Coalition for a roundtable discussion of cultural racketeering in New York. The Cambodian Delegation was led by Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, Secretary of State Chan Tani, and included Director General of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, Hab Touch. The delegation engaged a group of international experts in a wide ranging discussion about the problem of looting and the illegal trafficking in antiquities – or “cultural racketeering” — and told about efforts to return the 10th century sculptural group from the Koh Ker dynasty temple site at Prasat Chen.
Antiquities Coalition team members Deborah Lehr, Peter Herdrich, Katie Paul, and Tess Davis, an archaeologist and advocate of Cambodian cultural heritage, organized the roundtable. Experts with broad international experience from diverse backgrounds in archaeology, museums, government, and business contributed to a conversation about global solutions to a global problem. The discussants included:
- Role of Media – The role of the media in repatriation efforts and how it has contributed to a broader public understanding of the issues. A commentary led by Ralph Blumenthal and his colleague Tom Mashberg who have served as the leaders in the Cambodian repatriation story.
- Role of the Economy
- Local Economic Development Incentives – Larry Coben, the founder of the Sustainable Preservation Initiative (SPI), provided a comparative perspective with a review of his work in Peru. SPI seeks to preserve the world’s cultural heritage by providing sustainable economic opportunities to poor communities where endangered archaeological sites are located. SPI believes the best way to preserve cultural heritage is by creating or supporting locally owned business whose success is tied to that preservation, a paradigm that could have great success in Cambodia.
- Heritage Tourism – Rory Hunter, the owner of the Song Saa resort in Cambodia, who talked about the importance of an economic component in heritage preservation in providing opportunities for people around sites as well as in protecting them.
- Political Economic Challenges
- Cyprus: Consul-General of the Republic of Cyprus in New York, Mr. Vasilios Philippou, who commented on his country’s experience in combatting looting and how challenging it is for countries facing economic difficulties to fight this global issue alone.
- Cambodia: Cambodian Secretary of State Chan Tani, discussed how governments, NGOs, and committed people around the world can join in the fight to help countries in crisis fight against cultural racketeering.
Deputy Prime Minister Sok An summarized his perspective on cultural racketeering and the search for global solutions by urging all to consider the three ideas he keeps in mind in his efforts to provide assistance – (1) respect for local culture, (2) for nature, and for (3) communities.
The roundtable discussion was held at the Metropolitan Club in New York. It is the second organized by the Antiquities Coalition, following a March Cultural Racketeering Roundtable at the Egyptian Embassy in Washington, DC marking the visit of Egyptian Minister of Antiquities Mohammed Ibrahim to sign a Public-Private Partnership with the Coalition to cooperate in fighting cultural racketeering in Egypt.