US Lawmakers Call for Fight Against Destruction of World Cultural Property

Several US lawmakers have called for the protection and preservation of cultural property at risk of damage or destruction as a result of political instability, armed conflict, and other disasters. (See: Syria’s Cultural Artifacts Are Blood Diamonds for ISIS and Nine Arrests As ISIS Claims Credit for Bardo Museum Attacks.)

Destruction of cultural property “represents an irreparable loss of humanity’s common cultural heritage and is therefore a loss for all Americans,” according to the bill, as per a report by the blog of the Association of Research Into Crimes Against Art (“ARCA”). In support for the proposed legislation, which has the short title “Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act” and was referred on March 19 to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, lawmakers cite numerous incidences throughout history where important cultural property was lost forever.

These include episodes during China’s Cultural Revolution (“many antiques were destroyed, including a large portion of old Beijing”); the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge’s 1975 seizure of Cambodia during which they “systematically destroyed mosques and nearly every Catholic church in the country, along with many Buddhist temples, statues and Buddhist literature”; the Taliban’s destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in 2001 in central Afghanistan; and looting of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Among the natural disasters they cited were the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami that affected 11 countries and damaged several World Cultural Heritage sites, and the 2010 Haiti earthquake which partially destroyed the 17th century city of Jacmel.

Earlier this month, Representative Eliot L. Engel (D-NY) introduced the bill in the 114th congress calling for protection of such at-risk assets, via the House’s Armed Services; Foreign Affairs; Judiciary; Ways and Means Committee and also referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Additionally, four members of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee wrote a letter to Adam Szubin, director of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), urging the US to forbid importation of looted Syrian antiquities.

The letter states, in part:

We write to urge that the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control act quickly to promulgate regulations imposing sanctions on importers of cultural property unlawfully removed from Syria. Such regulations would implement a recently adopted United Nations Security Council Resolution and would mirror regulations already established for Iraq. (See: NYPD Surround Metropolitan Museum of Art and Other New York Museums After Tunis Attacks and Baghdad’s National Museum of Iraq Re-Opens in Response to ISIS’s Destruction of Statues in Mosul).

The bill notes that on February 12, 2015, the UN Security Council “unanimously adopted resolution 2199…which decides that all Member States shall take appropriate steps to prevent the trade in Iraqi and Syrian cultural property and other items of archaeological, historical, cultural, rare scientific, and religious importance illegally removed from Iraq since 6 August 1990 and from Syria since 15 March 2011, including by prohibiting cross-border trade in such items.”



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