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Monday, February 1, 2016

Senate Committee Rejects Cultural Property Czar; Supports Restrictions on Syrian Antiquities

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee met last week to consider the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act (H.R. 1493). It favorably reported the measure for full consideration by the senate, but rejected the legislation's creation of a cultural property czar.

The original bill passed by the House of Representatives last June called for the appointment of an Assistant Secretary of State as the new United States Coordinator for International Cultural Property Protection. The senate committee stripped this position from H.R. 1493 in a comprehensive substitute amendment that members adopted last Thursday. Generally speaking, a substitute amendment makes substantive changes to a bill and replaces significant portions of an original bill's language.

The idea for a cultural property czar first emerged in similar legislation introduced in the House in 2014. But the substitute amendment instead recommends "that the President should establish an interagency coordinating committee to coordinate and advance the efforts of the executive branch to protect and preserve international cultural property at risk." Because the amendment's language declares that "the President should" rather than "the President shall", the White House is not obligated to form the interagency committee should the measure be enacted into law.

The substitute amendment suggests that the interagency committee be chaired by an assistant secretary at the State Department and that it work to protect and preserve international cultural property, prevent and disrupt looting and trafficking, protect sites of cultural and archaeological significance, and provide for the lawful exchange of international cultural property.

The substitute amendment calls on the President to provide annual reports, over a six year period, about "the efforts of the executive branch ... to protect and preserve international cultural property, including whether an interagency coordinating committee ... has been established and, if such a committee has been established, a description of the activities undertaken by such committee, including a list of the entities participating in such activities." Senators added a specific provision so that the White House would describe "actions to implement and enforce ... the Emergency Protection for Iraqi Cultural Antiquities Act of 2004 ... including measures to dismantle international networks that traffic illegally in cultural property."

The Foreign Relations Committee embraced the second crucial part of H.R. 1493's original language, calling for emergency import protections to be placed on at-risk Syrian cultural property within 90 days of the law's passage, as opposed to the 120 days sought by the House. According to the senate committee's substitute amendment, import restrictions would be placed on Syrian archaeological and ethnological material under authority granted by the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA), "without regard to whether Syria is a State Party" to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. The CPIA is the federal law that implements key terms of the 1970 UNESCO Convention in the United States.
 
Photo credit: Rabi Samuel

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