Of Note: ISIS has destroyed numerous culturally significant artifacts
in Syria, Iraq, and Libya including churches, mosques, shrines, ancient
sites, and artifacts in museums as it has expanded its influence in the
Middle East. The ancient Roman ruins at Palmyra in Syria — a UNESCO World Heritage Site — have been threatened by ISIS since May 2015. In late August 2015 ISIS destroyed a major temple at Palmyra known as the Temple of Bel.
The import restriction imposed by this bill on cultural property from Syria is very similar to an existing restricting imports of cultural property from Iraq, enacted in 2008. That restriction covered ceramics, stone, metal,
glass, ivory, bone, shell, textile, paper, parchment, wood, and
paintings — but did allow for imports that were accompanied by
documentation showing that it left Iraq prior to August 6, 1990.
A Hollywood film weighed in on the theft of cultural property with The Monuments Men, which focused on cultural artifacts stolen by the Nazis and efforts by the Allies to retrieve the items, and was loosely based on a non-fiction book.
In-Depth: Sponsoring Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) cited this bill’s historical context in his press release, noting that “Wars have long caused terrible destruction and looting of priceless cultural property, from Nazi theft of artwork during World War II to Syria’s bombing of Aleppo to ISIL’s selling-off of ancient treasures. We need to strengthen our ability to stop history’s looters from profiting off their crimes.”
This bill also has bipartisan support with five Democratic and three Republican cosponsors, and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) praised this legislation’s efforts to help “priceless treasures stand a better chance in the face of this despicable campaign.”
The Society for American Archaeology and its 7,000 members expressed their strong support for this bill, saying that it would allow the U.S. to “rapidly increase its presence and impact in this often under-appreciated, but vital, area that resides at the intersection of trade, defense, and foreign affairs.”
Summary by Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: "Temple of Bel, Palmyra, Syria - 3" by James Gordon from Los Angeles, California, USA - Temple of Bel, Palmyra, Syria. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)