CONGRESSWOMAN ELISE STEFANIK
On Tuesday, April 26, 2016, the House will consider the Senate Amendment to H.R. 1493, the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act, under a suspension of the rules. H.R. 1493 was introduced on March 19, 2015, by Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) and passed the House by voice vote on June 1, 2015. H.R. 1493 was subsequently referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee which order the bill reported favorably with an amendment in the nature of a substitute on January 28, 2016. H.R. 1493 passed the Senate on April 13, 2016 with an amendment by Unanimous Consent.
Senate Amendment to H.R. 1493 directs the President to impose certain emergency import restrictions permitted under the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act on archaeological or ethnological material that has been removed from Syria since the start of its civil war, with certain exceptions if a waiver is granted. No later than one year after the date of enactment, and for the next six years after, the President is required to submit a report to Congress on the efforts of the executive branch to protect and preserve international cultural property.
Differences between the Senate Amendment and H.R. 1493, as passed by the House
The United States military has historically played a role in preserving and protecting cultural property during wartime. In 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established a commission to advise the U.S. military on the protection of cultural property. The commission, which was commonly referred to as the “Monuments Men,” was largely credited with securing, cataloguing, and returning thousands of works of art stolen by the Nazis during World War II.
The Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (19 U.S.C. §§ 2601-13) was enacted to implement the United States’ ratification of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. This Convention provides a framework to increase cooperation among countries to reduce the pillaging of archaeological and ethnological material.
As the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) forces have expanded their occupied territory in Syria and Iraq, they have destroyed and stolen many ancient artifacts that date back to Mesopotamia. ISIL has posted several videos online showing their forces destroying these artifacts; however, the true nature of their total destruction is unknown. According to the Director of Iraqi Museums, ISIL is selling many of these artifacts on the black market to criminal antique dealers. Information gained from a raid carried out by U.S. special forces on the compound of Abu Sayyaf, informally described as the chief financial officer of ISIL, in the spring of 2015 indicates that ISIL tightly controls and organizes the looting of sites and the smuggling of antiquities. 
On February 12, 2015, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2199, which reaffirms its decision that “all Member States shall take appropriate steps to prevent the trade in Iraqi and Syrian cultural property and other items of archaeological, historical, cultural, rare scientific, and religious importance illegally removed from Iraq since August 6, 1990 and from Syria since March 15, 2011.”
H.R. 1493 would require the President to implement the emergency import restrictions (under the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act) on antiquities removed from Syria since the start of that country’s civil war – thus reducing profits to ISIL and disincentivizing further looting.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that implementing the bill would cost less than $500,000 over the 2016 to 2020 period, assuming the availability of appropriated amounts. The bill directs the President to apply import restrictions to certain material from Syria with archaeological or ethnological importance. Under current law, some of that property could be imported into the United States and face customs duties. However, because the amount of such imports is expected to be small, CBO estimates that the revenue loss from the import restrictions would be less than $500,000 over the 2016 to 2025 period.
For questions or further information please contact Molly Newell with the House Republican Policy Committee by email or at 2-1374.