Sunday, November 1, 2015

Quotable: Bills target ISIS antiquities smuggling

Saturday, October 31st 2015
Public Diplomacy officers (at posts and in the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs) whose portfolios include cultural property and historic preservation will want to track legislation supported by Senator Robert Casey (D-PA).  In her October 29, 2015 article in thehill, “Senator targets ISIS antiquities smuggling,” Rebecca Kheel provided details.

. . . Sen. Robert Casey, Jr. (D-Pa.), is renewing calls to fight ISIS through its antiquities trafficking.

“The loss of life, obviously the most objectionable,” he said in an interview. “With both the destruction of human life and destruction of these ancient sites or antiquities or artifacts, they are trying to send a message that they’re going to impose a new kind of religious caliphate on any group of people that they come across.”

Casey participated this week in a forum . . . in part to promote a bill he introduced that seeks to limit ISIS’s ability to profit off plundered antiquities.

“If you’re involved in this in any way, or you’re not doing enough to shut it down, you’re helping ISIS. It’s pretty simple,” he said.

In July, Casey and GOP Sens. Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and David Perdue (Ga.) introduced the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act that gives the State Department authority to impose restrictions on the importation of Syrian antiquities into the United States.

The relevant bills are H.R. 1493 (introduced by Rep. Eliot Engel in March and passed by the House in June) and S. 1887 (introduced in the Senate in late July).  Senator Casey’s bill has been co-sponsored by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and David Perdue (R-GA).

The first 11 of the 18 findings in S. 1887 provide a useful history of losses:

(a) Findings.—Congress finds the following:
(1) Over the years, international cultural property has been looted, trafficked, lost, damaged, or destroyed due to political instability, armed conflict, natural disasters, and other threats.
(2) During China’s Cultural Revolution, many antiques were destroyed, including a large portion of old Beijing, and Chinese authorities are now attempting to rebuild portions of China’s lost architectural heritage.
(3) In 1975, the Khmer Rouge, after seizing power in Cambodia, systematically destroyed mosques and nearly every Catholic church in the country, along with many Buddhist temples, statues, and Buddhist literature.
(4) In 2001, the Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas, ancient statues carved into a cliffside in central Afghanistan, leading to worldwide condemnation.
(5) After the fall of Saddam Hussein, thieves looted the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, resulting in the loss of approximately 15,000 items, including ancient amulets, sculptures, ivories, and cylinder seals. Many of these items remain unrecovered.
(6) The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami not only affected 11 countries, causing massive loss of life, but also damaged or destroyed libraries, archives, and World Heritage Sites such as the Mahabalipuram in India, the Sun Temple of Koranak on the Bay of Bengal, and the Old Town of Galle and its fortifications in Sri Lanka.
(7) In Haiti, the 2010 earthquake destroyed art, artifacts, and archives, and partially destroyed the 17th century Haitian city of Jacmel.
(8) In Mali, the Al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist group Ansar Dine destroyed tombs and shrines in the ancient city of Timbuktu—a major center for trade, scholarship, and Islam in the 15th and 16th centuries—and threatened collections of ancient manuscripts.
(9) In Egypt, recent political instability has led to the ransacking of museums, resulting in the destruction of countless ancient artifacts that will forever leave gaps in humanity’s record of the ancient Egyptian civilization.
(10) In Syria, the ongoing civil war has resulted in the shelling of medieval cities, damage to five World Heritage Sites, and the looting of museums containing artifacts that date back more than six millennia and include some of the earliest examples of writing.
(11) In Iraq and Syria, the militant group ISIL has destroyed numerous cultural sites and artifacts, such as the Tomb of Jonah in July 2014, in an effort to eradicate ethnic and religious minorities from contested territories. Concurrently, cultural antiquities that escape demolition are looted and trafficked to help fund ISIL’s militant operations.

Author: Donald 

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