Engel Remarks on His Bill to Stop ISIS from Looting Antiquities
– As Delivered –
WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following remarks in the United State House of Representatives on 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 has been approved by both Houses of Congress and will now go the President for signature:
“Thank you Mr. Speaker. I rise in strong support of this legislation and I yield myself as much time as I may consume.
“Mr. Speaker, first of all I want to thank our chairman, Ed Royce, for his leadership on the Foreign Affairs Committee and for pushing this bill ahead. I don’t want to underestimate how important he has been in making sure that this bill reaches the floor. I also want to thank Congressman Chris Smith for joining me as a lead Republican cosponsor on this measure, and also our Senate colleagues for their work that helped get us to this point.
“This legislation is another great example of the Foreign Affairs Committee working across the aisle to get results. Because we believe again that foreign policy should be bipartisan. Partisanship should stop at the water’s edge.
“When the House finishes its work on this bill today, it will be on its way to the President’s desk. That’s something of which we should all be proud.
“Mr. Speaker, 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. If you look at satellite pictures of heritage sites that ISIS controls, you can pick out thousands of small holes in the desert. ISIS has looted these areas, digging up coins and statues and anything else they can carry, and trafficking those items on the black market. As a result, millions of dollars have flowed into ISIS coffers.
“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.
“I was confident we could do it, because we’d done it before. During the Iraq War, we also saw the looting of antiquities. So we passed legislation then to impose import restrictions on those items coming in from Iraq.
“I decided that we needed to take similar steps with respect to items coming out of Syria. So we got to work, talking to experts and officials to find the best ways of stopping looted goods arriving on our shores, and to make sure those goods aren’t sold to help ISIS’s campaign of violence. It’s really disgraceful that anyone in the United States would buy these things. Those proven practices and innovative approaches are at the core of this bill.
“These restrictions would bring the United States in line with a UN Security Council resolution passed unanimously last year. That resolution called on all states to deny funding to ISIS by preventing trade in Iraqi and Syrian cultural property.
“Our European partners have already stepped up and enacted similar measures. That’s good news, because it’s going to take a wide-ranging effort to effectively crack down on this illegal marketplace.
“My bill would also encourage Administration agencies already working on this problem to collaborate more closely, so that our efforts are more streamlined and efficient. Finally, it’s important to note that the legislation would not prevent the importation of Syrian artifacts for preservation or restoration.
“So this is a good bill. I’ve been working on it for several years. I’m proud of everything that’s gone into it by my colleagues and our staff members. I’m glad once again that we’re working in a bipartisan way to pass legislation that advances our interests. And I’m very grateful that we are so close to the finish line on this bill.
“So I want to thank everybody. I want to especially thank Chairman Royce, once again, and I ask that all members support this bill. I reserve the balance of my time.”
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.