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Honduras Increasing Mandatory Prison Sentences to Protect Cultural Heritage

Sculptural remains of the Mayan citadel Copan, dating from
300 AD exemplify the valuable cultural heritage at risk in Honduras.
It is considered one of the most important sites of Mayan civilization. 

The Honduran Congress is now enacting mandatory prison sentences to protect its cultural heritage.  Previously, crimes involving the looting of cultural artifacts were only punishable under trafficking and robbery laws.  In fact, of the 304 cases involving the theft of cultural goods from 2001-2012 only 47 went to trial.

With the new sentencing requirements looters face up 9 to 12 years for smuggling and buying illegally excavated items, 2 to 4 years for possessing cultural heritage artifacts, and 3 to 5 years for damage to historical monuments and failing to report archeological finds.

The changes to Honduran law follow a series of looting cases, including the recovery of a polychrome painted vase from 800-900 AD.  Attention was also drawn to the subject when the International Council of Museums (ICOM) placed Honduras on the Red List for Endangered Cultural Objects.

Eva Martinez, of the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History (IHAH), stated: “I’m confident that by being persistent, we will have a positive impact on the population.  We’ll not only be recovering cultural goods that have been stolen but also punish those responsible.  We’ll also be renewing their belief in the need to protect their history.”

Sources: Kay Valle, “Honduras Seeks to Protect Cultural Heritage,” InfosurHoy, Janaury 22, 2013;   International Council of Museums “Red List of Endangered Cultural Objects of Central America and Mexico.” Image source: UNESCO.