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GAO: Engel Law Will Help Curb Antiquities Looting in Syria

Aug 15, 2016
Press Release

WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today welcomed the release of a new report he requested from the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the protection of cultural antiquities looted from Iraq and Syria.  The report shows how the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act (PL 114-151), which Rep. Engel authored and which the President signed in May, will help to address the problem of looted antiquities being trafficked on the black market to finance terrorism.  The report also provides strong support for implementing the law’s recommended whole-of-government approach to address looting.

“ISIS has done irreparable damage to cultural history across Syria and Iraq, peddling whatever they can loot from ancient sites and destroying whatever is left behind.  The law I introduced takes steps to go after this source of funding and help preserve whatever items we’re able to get back,” said Rep. Engel. “This report from the GAO underscores the scope of this problem, shows how my law will help, and makes a case that agencies across government need to focus on this challenge.”

The Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act imposes new import restrictions on cultural artifacts removed from Syria. Similar restrictions were enacted in 2004 with respect to Iraqi antiquities.  The law provides exceptions to allow artifacts to enter the United States for temporary protection and restoration.  Restrictions will 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 law 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 also takes steps to enhance Congressional oversight of this issue.

Representative Engel requested the GAO report along with Reps. Ed Royce, Christopher Smith, and William Keating. The primary recommendations discussed in the report are:

  •        Creation of a government-wide strategy;
  •        Improved information-sharing among U.S. agencies;
  •        Increased support of public-private partnerships and collaboration with foreign countries on data management;
  •        Enhanced collaboration with foreign countries to share law enforcement information internationally;
  •        Strengthened U.S. Customs and Border Protection guidance on importing cultural property;
  •        Expanded training of law enforcement officers;
  •        Establishment of a position within the Department of Defense focused on cultural preservation.

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