WASHINGTON, DC—Representatives Eliot Engel (D-NY), the top Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs; Chris Smith (R-NJ), chair of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations; Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA); and William Keating (D-MA), ranking member of the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade today reintroduced legislation to improve cultural property protection abroad and help deny the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) the ability to profit from trafficking looted artifacts. The Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act would coordinate American efforts to protect historical sites and artifacts around the world and restrict imports of cultural property illegally trafficked from Syria.
“Wars have long caused terrible destruction and looting of priceless cultural property, from the Nazi theft of artwork during World War II to Syria’s bombing of Aleppo to ISIL’s selling-off of ancient treasures. We need to strengthen our ability to stop history’s looters from profiting off their crimes,” said Rep. Engel. “ISIL destroys the historical sites of those they oppress as a form of terrorism, while profiting from trafficking cultural artifacts. The United States cannot be a market for Syria’s stolen artifacts and must better coordinate its efforts to protect cultural property around the world. Since World War II, the United States has been a leader in protecting cultural property. We must continue our leadership in responding to ISIL and other threats around the world.”
“Extremists who aim to subjugate or eliminate ethnic and religious minorities from their historic homelands and communities, are a malignant blight on the world community,” said Rep. Smith. “In 2014, the world watched ISIL destroy the tomb of the biblical prophet Jonah in Iraq, on the site of the ancient Assyrian capital of Nineveh. We can no longer stand idly by but must act. This legislation is part of the ongoing struggle to preserve history, cultural heritage, artifacts and sites, and even the very existence of ancient peoples, as well as to block extremists such as ISIL from any financial gain due to the sale of blood antiquities.”
Chairman Royce said, “The history of civilization is under attack. ISIS has destroyed archaeological sites in Iraq and Syria, including the ancient cities of Hatra and Nimrud, both thousands of years old. The militants have defaced churches and shrines of importance to Christians, Jews, and Muslims, and have smuggled and sold precious artifacts on the black market to fund their heinous campaign of violence. This legislation will improve the coordination and oversight of U.S. agencies responsible for protecting cultural property, so that priceless treasures stand a better chance in the face of this despicable campaign.”
"The sponsors of this bill and I have long been concerned with the communication between our agencies on the issue of looting and illicit trading of antiquities,” said Rep. Keating. “ISIL's theft and destruction of relics and artifacts in Iraq and Syria, in particular, highlights the need to further protect cultural property. This bill is an important step in protecting cultural heritage and preventing illegal trafficking.”
The legislation would impose import restrictions on cultural property illegally removed from Syria, mirroring restrictions currently in place for Iraq, and better coordinate U.S. government efforts to protect cultural property around the world. It would designate a Coordinator for International Cultural Property Protection at the Department of State and establish a Coordinating Committee to organize inter-agency efforts to combat the destruction of cultural property due to political instability, armed conflict, or natural disaster.
Cultural property has recently been lost in Syria and Iraq at the hands of ISIL and other groups, in Egypt due to political instability, in Mali and Afghanistan from radical Islamist activity, in Haiti from the 2010 earthquake, and as a result of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.