As the looting crisis continues to escalate in Cambodia, countries are increasingly trying to preserve their patrimony through the enactment of legislation. But the antiquities trade is not limited to the borders, or legal jurisdiction, of any one country. The result is a tangled web of national and international laws — which are complex, often overlapping, and sometimes contradictory.
Heritage Watch has witnessed firsthand how global efforts to protect cultural heritage are hampered by the lack of a single reference that those working in heritage preservation can turn to for comprehensive and current legal information. Heritage Watch will fill this conspicuous gap with the creation of DHARMA — the Database of Historical and Archaeological Regulations for the Management of Antiquities. For the first time, lawyers, archaeologists, law enforcement officers, government officials, and collectors will have easy access to current national and international legislation affecting the management of heritage resources.
UNESCO has made admirable progress with its international Cultural Heritage Laws Database, but that reference comprises only heritage specific legislation, neglecting other statutory and common law. Civil procedure, criminal, contract, property, and tort laws — while not created with heritage protection in mind — are primary vehicles for protecting heritage worldwide and must be included in any comprehensive resource. They will be included in DHARMA.
The UNESCO database also excludes most of the Southeast Asian nations. Therefore, DHARMA will initially concentrate on these countries — Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. These nations will particularly benefit from such a resource. Their rich cultural heritage is among the most threatened in the world, and while they all seek to protect it legally, they do so in vastly different ways. This is largely due to the region’s wide range of legal systems—including common, civil, customary, and Islamic law jurisdictions in addition to numerous combinations of the four. A single, comprehensive reference will do a great deal to untangle the resulting legal confusion. DHARMA will answer this need.
The DHARMA database continues to be added to but a working copy was handed over in July 2012 to both the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts and to UNESCO Cambodia.
Hertiage Watch is extremely grateful to Terressa Davis and her team of interns for compiling this useful database and uncovering laws that may have a lasting impact on the preservation of Cambodia's rich heritage.