Monday, February 1, 2016

Progress on HR 1493

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has passed a much modified version of HR 1493, a bill designed to protect cultural property in times of war and civil strife.  The Senate's version of the bill is not yet available on-line, but CPO has had an opportunity to review its provisions.  Most importantly, the Senate substitute legislation replaces a controversial State Department "Cultural Property Czar" found in the House version with a sense of Congress that the President should establish an inter-agency task force to coordinate a US Government response to protecting international cultural property in times of war or civil strife.  The bill authorizes import restrictions on Syrian cultural artifacts-- consistent with the provisions of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act, but also strengthens provisions for "safe harbor" for Syrian artifacts compared to the House version of the bill.

HR 1493's sponsor, Ranking Minority House Foreign Relations Committee Member Congressman Elliot Engel,  has welcomed the Senate's actions.  So, CPO suspects the Senate's changes were likely worked out in advance with Engel and his staff. If true, that should help expedite passage of the measure and any House-Senate conference.

The major remaining concern deals with how such restrictions will be implemented.  Will the State Department and US Customs revert to standard operating procedure and restrict items solely based on them being of a type manufactured in Syria hundreds or thousands of years ago? Or will the governing UN Resolution and statutory intent be honored so that restrictions only apply to artifacts illegally removed from Syria after the start of its civil war?

2/10/16 Update:  The text of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee version of the bill is now available here.

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