Placing cultural rights: resolving conflicts over cultural heritage [written in the spring of 2004].
Today, moral and political claims are typically phrased in human rights language, with the ultimate aim of having such claims embodied in positive law (1). This perspective tends to ignore conflicts arising between different human rights, a problem identified if not solved by the UN (2), which conceives of human rights as 'indivisible and interdependent and interrelated' (3). These general observations can be applied to archaeological practice.
Field archaeology tends to conceive of the recovery and reporting of material culture as ends in themselves, leading to a neglect of the ethical issues involved. Human rights are sometimes considered, especially by the Left of the archaeological profession, but this too often takes the form of simplistic, programmatic attacks on human rights violations.
Archaeologists tend to conceive of cultural heritage as inalienable and inviolable and to deplore its commodification or destruction. (The outcry at the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan and the looting of the National Museum in Iraq testify to this.)
My thesis will take issue with these simplistic views. It will pay attention to the nuances of specific circumstances and highlight the human cost of upholding cultural human rights. I shall do this by researching in depth one case study (with fieldwork being conducted in either Lebanon or the former Yugoslavia, as the security situation allows) and through library work.
My main aim will be to problematise the nature and status of cultural rights and the responsibilities and duties of archaeologists towards persons and cultures. I shall reflect upon how well or how badly the national and international legal framework supports these rights and duties.
Questions which my research will address include:
"What constitutes a culture?" If rights are to be held collectively, a discrete unit must hold them, yet people may belong to more than one "culture" and may have conflicting rights and duties as members of those cultures.
"What is it that cultures have rights to?" The primary conception of a cultural right is that of a right to identity, whether language, lifeway or religion, but cultural property is a component of culture and in order to comprehend cultures' rights and archaeologists' duties it is essential to consider what a "cultural right to archaeology" might entail (4).
"If we abrogate cultural rights, are other human rights made meaningless?" By definition, human rights are indivisible ([UN] 1993 Vienna Declaration), but in certain circumstances respecting one right necessarily contravenes another: how do we resolve this paradox?
"Why do we care about memory?" and concomitantly, "When can/should we forget/destroy some things?" Memory is actively constructed and maintained, as are the artefacts invested with and constitutional of memories, but which memories belong to whom and who ought to decide what is remembered and what is forgotten (5)? When the Taleban destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas they implied that they were irrelevant to contemporary Afghani society, but the locals claimed the Buddhas as part of Hazara culture and UNESCO claimed them as part of world culture (6). Did Afghans have a cultural right to destroy culture and if so, was that right prior to either the local or global cultural rights with which it conflicted?
"When archaeology is 'lost', to whom is it lost?" Frequently, archaeologists talk of archaeology being "lost" through illegal excavation and trade, yet locals do not perceive themselves as having had anything until excavation and do not conceive of having "lost" anything when they sell it on; conversely, when archaeologists excavate sites they commonly see the material as "saved", while locals see the material "lost" to archives and the knowledge "buried" in reports. How can archaeologists educate people about their heritage and its significance without restoring imperialist structures of "civilisation" and "enlightenment"?
"How ought 'cultural heritage', 'cultural rights' and 'identity' be phrased in law?", "How are they currently articulated within the current (sic) human rights framework?" and "How could they be better articulated?" Cultural heritage is a term tied to UNESCO and the notion of Western Civilisation; cultural rights are associated with indigenous and other cultural communities and the ideas of equality and social justice. Do these notions receive further international or national implementation?
Archaeology has been driven into an "ethical crisis" by the wars in the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq, wherein it must interrogate its nature and role in society (7). Building on Gewirth's (1978) exposition of human rights (8) and Barrett's (1994) programme for a self-reflexive practice (9), my research will not only review archaeological practice in light of the human rights discourse but also establish the foundations of what could be termed a human rights archaeology - an archaeology that not only respects human rights but positively strives for their protection and realisation (10).
This project will contribute to convergence both between disciplines, such as archaeology, anthropology, law and social policy and between strata of practice, from abstract moral theory to personal interactions in conflict zones; in so doing, it will seek to make moral theory and legal implementation adequate on the ground and archaeological practice answerable to its local and global constituencies.
1: Donnelly, J. 1989: Universal human rights in theory and practice. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
2: Many documents attest to this. See e.g.
UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1990: General comment 3: the nature of States Parties obligations. Geneva: Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Available at: http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/(Symbol)/94bdbaf59b43a424c12563ed0052b664?Opendocument
UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1991: General comment 4: the right to adequate housing. Geneva: Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Available at: http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/(Symbol)/469f4d91a9378221c12563ed0053547e?Opendocument
UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 2000: General comment 14: the right to the highest attainable standard of health. Geneva: Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Available at: http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/(Symbol)/40d009901358b0e2c1256915005090be?Opendocument
3: UN. 1993: Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. Geneva: Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Available at: http://www.unhchr.ch/huridocda/huridoca.nsf/(Symbol)/A.CONF.157.23.En?OpenDocument [ref. Article 1, Paragraph 5].
4: O'Keefe, P J. 2000: "Archaeology and human rights". Public Archaeology, Volume 1, 181-194.
UN. 1999: Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognised Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Geneva: Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
UNESCO. 1998: Draft Declaration on Cultural Rights. Paris: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.
5: UNESCO. 2003: Declaration [Concerning] the Intentional Destruction of Cultural Heritage. Paris: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. Available at: http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=17718&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html
6: UNESCO. 1972: Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. Paris: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. Available at: http://whc.unesco.org/world_he.htm
7: Hamilakis, Y. 2003: "Iraq, stewardship and the 'record': an ethical crisis for archaeology". Public Archaeology, Volume 3, 104-111 [ref. 105].
8: Gewirth, A. 1978: Reason and morality. London: the University of Chicago Press.
9: Barrett, J C. 1994: Fragments from antiquity: an archaeology of social life in Britain, 2,900-1,200 B.C. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd.
10: Hardy, S A. 2003: "Objective morality in archaeological interpretation: confronting injustice in education". Paper presented at the 5th World Archaeological Congress, Washington, D.C., 21st-26th June.
O'Keefe, P J. 2000: "Archaeology and human rights". Public Archaeology, Volume 1, 181-194 [ref. 191].
[Formatting has been changed to make it easy to read in a blog. Some text has been written in bold to help searches. Bibliographical details have been written out in full for reference purposes.]
Tags: archaeological ethics, archaeology, community, cultural heritage, cultural rights, culture, human rights, human rights violations, identity, law, professional ethics, research proposal