New legislation introduced to protect international cultural property

Heather LeeHomepage, News, Report1 Comment

H.R.5703

SAFE applauds the introduction of a new legislation aiming to improve the efficiency of the U.S. federal efforts to protect international cultural property. On November 13, Representatives Eliot L. Engel (D-NY) and Christ Smith (R-NJ) proposed the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act (H.R. 5703) in response to the terrible state of affairs brought by ISIL/ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

The legislation aims to appoint a White House Coordinator for International Cultural Property Protection, a position that will be responsible for amassing all the federal efforts to address cultural heritage protection issues by coordinating diplomatic, military, and law enforcement efforts.

Representative Smith said, “Our global cultural patrimony has all too often been targeted by extremists who want to wipe out the collective memories of ethnic and religious minorities from lands they seek to control and conquer . . . The fight to preserve our common cultural heritage, as well as to deny extremists such as ISIL resources from the sale of blood antiquities, is yet another front on the global war against terror.”

The legislation is admirable for its attempt to encompass all the major countries suffering from cultural heritage destruction. Section 3, Findings and Statement of Policy, lists major Middle Eastern countries (Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan), as well as Mali, Cambodia, China, and Haiti. It also proposes federal agencies to liaise with the Smithsonian Institution, which has been an integral part of the protection efforts in the Middle East, as SAFE previously reported here.

But those who have followed the legislative efforts for cultural heritage protection might remember what happened a little more than a decade ago. In 2003, the Iraq Cultural Heritage Protection Act (H.R. 3497/H.R.2009) ended up not being enacted and replaced by a lesser resolution.

So the question for H.R.5703 is, will this bill see a swifter resolution?

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Heather Lee

Heather Lee is a former intern and current volunteer at SAFE. She is a senior at Amherst College, with a double major in History of Art and European Studies. Her main areas of interest are the prevention of looting and illegal trafficking and the development of international laws and policies regarding these issues. She hopes to bring in her past internship experiences at various art museums, to better understand how the different players of the art and archaeology world could collaborate for the protection of archaeological sites and cultural objects.

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