Friday, March 12, 2021

Requests for MENA Cultural Property Agreements Originate not with the Source Country, but with the Archaeological Lobby and our own State Department

This is a follow up to CPO's February 12, 2020, blog post:  

The Convention on Cultural Implementation Act contemplates that UNESCO State parties will request the United States to enter into MOU's which authorize the imposition of import restrictions on cultural goods. However, it now appears that MOU requests supposedly from Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) countries actually originate from the State Department itself with  the help of funding from the Antiquities Coalition, a major archaeological advocacy group that has lobbied the United States Government for an import ban on so-called "blood antiquities" from the MENA region. See

 According to Lynn Roche of the State Department's Near East Affairs Bureau,

“Bilateral Memoranda of Understanding, based on the 1970 UNESCO Convention on Cultural Property, are creating the foundation for long-term partnerships with governments in the NEA region. These MOUs authorize DHS’s Customs and Border Protection to seize undocumented cultural property. The first case in NEA was when Egypt committed resources to cultural heritage protection and signed an MOU with the U.S. in November of 2016. Following that, NEA provided funding to advise NEA countries in preparing their MOU request packages. ECA and NEA training and capacity building for Libyan archeologists and law enforcement personnel laid the groundwork for signing an MOU with Libya in February 2018. Post, the Libya External Office that’s based in Tunis, is now working with a Fulbright Specialist to support this effort. So, posts are looking at the whole toolkit of what they can do to bring these resources to bear and advance this cause.”


 According to the Antiquities Coalition's 2017 990 filing, the Coalition gave a grant of $60,000 which was apparently passed through the State Department to help fund these MOU requests.  requests. See (Form 990, Schedule I, Part II, Grants and Assistance to Domestic Organizations and Domestic Governments)  

This new information helps confirm why collectors, dealers, museums, and representatives of displaced religious and ethnic minorities are treated as outsiders to the process of imposing import restrictions on cultural goods. It also suggests there needs to be far more transparency with regard to how import restrictions are processed. 

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