Diving for Diamonds: Letter to Office of Oceans Affairs 2 - Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Letter to Office of Oceans Affairs 2 "Diving for Diamonds"
June 27, 2000

Mr. Robert Blumberg
Office of Oceans Affairs
Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20520

Dear Mr. Blumberg:

As president of the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), an organization that represents more than 11,000 professional, student, and lay members, I am writing to you to express our strong support for the Draft Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage. The AIA urges the U.S. delegation to work for an international agreement that will ensure that the world's submerged cultural heritage is protected for present and future generations.

As you know, the AIA submitted comments in advance of the first meeting of governmental experts in April, 1998. These comments, which summarize our views regarding the convention, have been published in the International Journal of Cultural Property (vol. 7, 1998: 538-544) and need not be repeated here. Below I would like to call your attention to our principal concerns regarding the current draft of the convention (CLT-96/CONF.202/5 Rev. 2, July 1999).

1. We favor the broad definition of "underwater cultural heritage" as found in the current version of the Draft Convention. Any attempt to qualify the definition, e.g., by reference to some notion of "significance," is likely to prove unworkable in the international context.

2. We strongly support the extension of coastal state jurisdiction of underwater cultural heritage to the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, as articulated in Option 1 (Articles 5-7) of the current draft. Such jurisdiction is consistent with the 1982 Law of the Sea convention and should be regarded as a positive, and incremental, evolution of maritime law that takes into account modern developments in both underwater archaeology and the public interest in cultural heritage.

3. Admiralty law and treasure salvage have no place in the Convention and should be excluded.

4. Section I.2 ("General principles") of the Annex should retain "shall" in the final sentence: "Underwater cultural heritage shall not be traded, sold, bought and bartered as items of commercial value." We would prefer to have this paragraph incorporated into the main body of the Convention, as proposed by Canada ("Synoptic report of comments on the Draft Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage," CLT-2000/CONF.201/3).

5. The AIA opposes the "multiple-use" doctrine proposed by the U.S. delegation insofar as it would open the door to commercial treasure salvage within the ambit of the Convention. Allowing for salvage to continue would effectively gut the preservation philosophy of the Convention.

6. The territorial sea and extra-territorial sea are two distinct maritime regions. The Convention need not apply to the territorial sea. The U.S. treatment of underwater cultural heritage within the territorial sea is limited and inconsistent, and it is clear that a major overhaul of U.S. law in this area is warranted. Absolute conformity of the Convention to the currently flawed protective regime for the territorial sea should not be an impediment to endorsing the Convention; rather, our participation in a strong, preservation-minded Convention should serve to stimulate domestic efforts to reform the current laws governing underwater cultural heritage in our territorial sea.

Thank you for considering the views of the Archaeological Institute of America.

With best wishes,
Nancy C. Wilkie
President

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