Thursday, August 31, 2023

Cultural Property MOU entered into with Yemen without vetting by CPAC or public comment

 Lee Satterfield, the Assistant Secretary, ECA, has apparently unilaterally transformed current “emergency import restrictions” for Yemen into a cultural property MOU with that country, all without input from Cultural Property Advisory Committee or the public.   Unfortunately, Yemen these days is run by factions aligned with Iran, Saudi Arabia and the People’s Republic of China. 

The Cultural Property Implementation Act, 19 USC Section 2605 contemplates that such agreements will only be entered into after the proposal is vetted by CPAC, which then is expected to recommend which kinds of objects are considered for import restrictions under the agreement (19 USC Section 2605 (f)).   By converting the current “emergency import restrictions” into ones under a MOU, the State Department has prevented CPAC and the public (including concerned Jewish exile and collector groups)  from commenting on whether import restrictions should continue for the country, which does not respect the rule of law. 

When Yemeni import restrictions were last before CPAC in 2019, despite a short 2-week comment period, any such agreement faced substantial opposition from Jewish exile and coin collector groups.  The State Department presumably engineered this MOU without vetting it through the Cultural Property Advisory Committee and allowing public comment as required under CPIA, 19 USC Section 2605 because they knew it would be controversial and subject to the same opposition today. 

It is unclear whether this will result in a change in the current designated list, which implicitly includes the cultural heritage of Yemen’s displaced Jewish minority as well as a wide variety of coin types.

Addendum (September 3, 2023):  A State Department  press release suggests that the MOU does not only convert current "emergency import restrictions" into "regular ones" under a MOU, but also extends them past their current sunset date, again all without the required input from CPAC and the public.

Note that the first sentence of the press release states, 

 "On Wednesday, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Lee Satterfield and Ambassador of Yemen to the United States Mohammed Al-Hadhrami, accompanied by the Department’s Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking, signed a bilateral cultural property agreement that renews and extends protections for Yemeni cultural property which were put in place in 2020 on an emergency basis."