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Engel Bill to Stop ISIS from Looting Antiquities Heads to the President

Apr 26, 2016
Press Release
Engel Measure Cracks Down on Funding Source for ISIS While Protecting Syria’s Cultural Heritage

WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today welcomed final House passage of his legislation to crack down on the sale of artifacts looted by ISIS from cultural sites in Syria.  The Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act would contribute to the comprehensive policy of degrading and destroying ISIS without risking American lives or costing American taxpayers.

Representative Engel’s legislation would impose tough new import restrictions on antiquities that are trafficked out of Syria, bringing U.S. policy in line with a UN Security Council Resolution that called on governments to deny funding to ISIS by preventing trade in Iraqi and Syrian cultural property. Representative Engel introduced the bill during the 113th Congress and again last year.  After earning bipartisan support in both Houses of Congress, as well as the support of numerous cultural heritage organizations, the legislation will now head to the President.

“From the time ISIS emerged as a factor in Iraq and Syria, we’ve read reports, seen images, and watched videos of ISIS terrorists destroying ancient structures and artifacts in the areas they control.  It’s actually heartbreaking.  These fanatics literally want to wipe away history.  They want to destroy any trace of any culture or belief system that doesn’t conform to their twisted ideology and twisted way of thinking. But that’s not the whole story.  ISIS has also seized on cultural artifacts as a funding source,” said Rep. Engel on the House floor. “So a few years ago, I knew we needed to do more to combat this serious problem. With the help of several colleagues—and again, I want to emphasize how helpful the Chairman has been—I set out to help preserve this history and at the same time cut of a vital revenue stream for these terrorists.”                  

Numerous outside groups have voiced their support for H.R. 1493.

“The protection of human history is a non-partisan issue. Representative Engel has demonstrated great leadership in working with Chairman Royce and other members of the House and Senate in authoring a bipartisan bill that makes a difference in the preservation of cultural heritage,” said Brian I. Daniels, Director of Research at the Penn Cultural Heritage Center, University of Pennsylvania Museum.  “H.R. 1493 ends the incentive for ISIS to loot antiquities by making it clear that there is no legal market for the artifacts stolen from Syria during the present conflict. But this bill goes even further by encouraging Federal agencies to work together on preserving human history—and holding them accountable to do just that. In recent years, we have watched how terror groups have conspired to erase the history of ethnic and religious groups that they oppose. This bill is insurance that does not happen.”   

Patty Gerstenblith, Distinguished Research Professor at the DePaul University College of Law, said, “With this legislation, the United States has taken a significant step toward reducing the destruction of cultural heritage in the Syrian conflict and preventing the sale of looted antiquities from providing income to ISIL and others engaged in the conflict. The 15 cultural heritage organizations that supported this legislation thank Congressman Engel for his leadership in providing a practical response to the funding of terrorism.”

On June 1, 2015, Representative Engel’s legislation unanimously passed the House, and the Senate approved a slightly modified version of the legislation on April 13. The bill passed today in the House by voice vote.

The bill would impose new import restrictions on cultural artifacts removed from Syria. Similar restrictions were enacted in 2004 with respect to Iraqi antiquities.  The legislation would provide exceptions to allow artifacts to enter the United States for temporary protection and restoration.  Restrictions would remain in effect until the crisis in Syria is resolved and America is able to work with a future Syrian government to protect cultural property from trafficking under a bilateral agreement, in accordance with America’s national interests.

Additionally, the bill expresses support for a new interagency coordinating body to enhance cooperation among the government agencies, including the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, already working on cultural preservation issues.  It would also take steps to enhance Congressional oversight of this issue.

Click here for a fact sheet on H.R. 1493, the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act, introduced by Rep. Engel along with Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs; Rep. William R. Keating (D-MA), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade; and Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Chair of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations.

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All photos courtesy of the U.S. Department of State