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Engel Calls for Senate Action on Cultural Preservation Bill

Oct 28, 2015
Press Release

Ranking Member Engel discusses looting of antiquities by ISIS.

- As Delivered –

WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Eliot L. Engel, the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following remarks calling for Senate action on the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act at an event focused on the looting and destruction of cultural antiquities in Syria and Iraq by ISIS terrorists: 

“Well, thank you Patty.  And good morning everyone.  It’s good afternoon I guess. It’s good to see everybody here.  And Patty, thank you for all you do and thank you for everything you’ve done to help us with this. By the way, I’m married to a Patty so I can’t forget your name. 

“So thank you all really for coming.  It’s a wonderful turnout and really just wonderful to see.  I met some of my colleagues who were leaving. 

“I want to start by thanking the University of Pennsylvania for organizing this event.   And to our other sponsors and participants: welcome and thank you for joining us.

“I know Chairman Ed Royce, my friend on the Foreign Affairs Committee, was here.  I saw him outside.  And Ed Royce and I have worked very closely together.  We run the Foreign Affairs Committee together.  Him, he as Chair, me as Ranking Member, in the most bipartisan way you can.

“We do believe that issues like this—foreign policy issues and issues like antiquities—are bipartisan.  It shouldn’t be a partisan issue and we’re stronger when foreign policy is bipartisan.  And we try to do that.

“I want to acknowledge the Senators who have been here.  Who have come and gone and some will come—Senator Casey, Chairman Grassley, and Senator Perdue—and some of my Foreign Affairs Committee colleagues are here as well. Chris Smith of New Jersey was just outside.  He was one of the first cosponsors of my antiquities bill and Bill Keating from Massachusetts who has also written legislation aimed at cracking down on looted antiquities entering the United States.  And I was proud to sign onto that bill as well as an original cosponsor.

“So I want to thank all of you for coming here and joining us today.  I’ve been looking forward to this event, for a long time.  I wrote the Preserve International Cultural Property Act in the House, and we passed that legislation earlier this year.  Gatherings like this one help build momentum for this effort and send a message that it’s time to get this bill across the finish line here in the Senate.

“By now, we’ve all seen the footage of ISIS terrorists smashing statues and blowing up temples in Palmyra and elsewhere.  It’s just heartbreaking and breathtaking.  The most precious relics of mankind’s history being wiped away.  And there, right smack in the middle of the Cradle of Civilization, these violent fanatics want to install a brutal, oppressive Caliphate.

“‘But why,’ people ask, ‘should we focus on antiquities when ISIS terrorists are slaughtering innocent people by the thousands?  No one wants to see this destruction, of course.  But some say shouldn’t the terrible loss of life be our first priority?’  Well my answer to those questions: a hundred million dollars.  That’s the best estimate of how much ISIS earns in one year by selling looted artifacts on the black market. 

“Before the terrorists start to demolish historical sites, they ransack everything they can.  Then, they put those items up for sale.  And the profits go right back into financing their campaign of terror.

“So when someone says, ‘Well, you know, if I buy a coin or two, what does it matter?’ You—if you do that—you are financing terror.  You are helping the terrorists kill people.  Because that’s how they get their money to slaughter innocent civilians.  So it’s not simply a matter of just doing something and there’s really no penalty for it.  It’s aiding and abetting terrorism.

“Yesterday, on the House side, we had a meeting and testimony about elephants and how the elephants’ tusks and ivory are being poached and we think elephants in the wild could be extinct in 11 years.  And we said the same thing. People say, ‘Well, if I buy something with ivory, what does it mean?’  Well if you buy something with ivory, you are paying terrorists.  You are aiding and abetting terrorism. 

“It’s the same thing here.  If you think the coins are just coins and it doesn’t really matter: yes, it does.  It’s aiding and abetting terrorism. 

“So they put these items up for sale.  The profits go right back into financing their campaign of terror.  And it’s a hundred million dollars every year—a year.  And it could even be more.

“So by working to close the markets to artifacts looted by ISIS, we cut off a critical source of funding.  And it will help to save lives and weaken this heinous organization.  Now we did the same thing with Iraq many years ago.  We passed a bill.  It’s now a law.  Looted antiquities, coins, or whatever from Iraq cannot be sold in the United States.  Well if it was good enough in Iraq—10, 12, 14 years ago—it’s good enough now in Syria.  It’s the same concept.   The same thing. We need to stop financing terrorism.

“So it’s the smart thing to do.   It’s the right thing to do.  We want to preserve these artifacts.  The United States has a long history of working to preserve cultures in warzones.  Just last week, Speaker Boehner honored the surviving Monuments Men who helped protect cultural history from the Nazis during World War II.  This is what we do.  This is part of who we are.

“So my legislation works on both of these fronts.  It puts in place new import restrictions on artifacts looted from Syria.  We did the same thing—as I said—a decade ago during the Iraq War.  And our Western allies are taking similar steps now for Syria.

“To be clear, this bill won’t prevent bringing antiquities to the United States for safekeeping.  That can still happen.  And it should happen.  We just want to be sure that ISIS isn’t filling its coffers by selling these items in our country.  So again, I thank you.

“My bill enhances collaboration among government agencies and programs aimed at protecting cultural property before it falls into the wrong hands.  It doesn’t cost any more money to create any new programs.  So, no one can object to this in terms of finances.  It just coordinates and streamlines what we’re already doing.

“And as I said, this bill passed the House without a single ‘no.’  Try that.  Try to get anything unanimous in the House these days.  So it shows you how everybody takes this seriously. 

“Identical legislation—as I mentioned before—is waiting for action in the Senate. And I again thank my Senate colleagues for their leadership on this issue.  But it’s up to all of us to keep making the case that now is the time to act, so that we choke off resources for ISIS before this rich history is lost forever.

“It’s getting to the end of the calendar year.  I would hope the Senate would pass it this year.  Again, there was no objection by anyone in the house.  None from the Republicans.  None from the Democrats.  Let’s pass this bipartisan piece of legislation in the Senate as well.  And I thank you all for your support and partnership.  Thanks for being here.”

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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.