Bill now heads to President’s desk

Washington, D.C. – Today, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) applauded House passage of legislation to combat ISIS’s trafficking of both Iraqi and Syrian cultural property, an operation that earns ISIS tens of millions annually.  The legislation, Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act (H.R. 1493), now heads to the President’s desk.

On the House floor Chairman Royce spoke about combating ISIS’s destruction and looting of artifacts from the birthplace of civilization.  Below are Chairman Royce’s remarks (as prepared for delivery): 

This is a critical measure.  The Islamic State, or ISIS, continues to wreak havoc throughout Iraq and Syria, laying a path of death and destruction in its wake.  And it has inspired deadly attacks around the world and here at home.

No offense is more appalling than the terrorists’ complete disregard for human life.  As this body has recognized, ISIS is waging a genocide against religious minorities in the Middle East, and has unleashed a campaign of sickening violence against Muslims who do not share their radical beliefs. 

But besides the human toll of ISIS’s deplorable acts, we also mourn the tremendous loss of cultural heritage, as these extremists loot and destroy their way through ancient sites in the territories they conquer. 

We’ve seen sickening footage of ISIS drilling their way through priceless artifacts in Mosul, and bulldozing magnificent Mesopotamian ruins in the 3,000 year old city of Nimrud.

ISIS claims the annihilation of cultural sites is meant to counter idol worship, but clearly these terrorists have another goal: to remove all traces of the region’s rich and diverse religious and cultural past.  By eliminating all evidence of religious pluralism and humanity’s common heritage, they are paving the way for their own horrifying brand of Islamist extremism.

And the looting of antiquities is big business for ISIS.  Experts estimate that the group has earned millions of dollars from the sale of stolen artifacts, which are often peddled by middlemen in old-fashioned markets or online.  And unfortunately, buyers in the U.S. appear to be a primary end-destination for many of these pieces.

I just returned from the Middle East.  I was honored to speak at the Iraq Museum in Baghdad about the need to counter ISIS’s trafficking of priceless antiquities.  This region is steeped in history – from the rise and fall of empires, to the evolution of writing, mathematics, and art.  Much of this heritage remains at risk due to looting by ISIS and, I should add, other parties to the conflict in Syria, including the murderous Assad regime.

That is why last year, Ranking Member Engel and I introduced H.R. 1493, which will help the U.S. do its part to counter this black market trade.  Specifically, this legislation will prevent those antiquities removed since the start of Syria’s civil war from being sold or imported into the United States.  This will reduce funding to ISIS and disincentivize future looting.

I want to again thank the Ranking Member, as well as Representatives Smith and Keating, for all their work on this measure.

I also want to acknowledge the bill’s Senate sponsors, Senators Casey, Perdue and Grassley, as well as Chairman Corker and Ranking Member Cardin of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, whose leadership was instrumental to this measure’s passage in the Senate.