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Legislating Protection for Iraqi Heritage June 27, 2003

The Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) has released a comparison of House Bill H.R. 2009 and Senate Bill S. 1291, both regarding the protection of Iraqi archaeological and cultural material. The AIA concludes that the Senate bill is much weaker than the House bill and would afford insufficient protections. Based on its concerns, the AIA is endorsing only the House bill and has called for public support of H.R. 2009, while suggesting that the Senate should consider a bill that "tracks" H.R. 2009 rather than S. 1291 as it is currently written. The comparison of the bills is presented in full below:

The AIA's Position on Proposed Legislation Relating to the Import Restrictions on Iraqi Archaeological and Cultural Materials

Recently, Senators Grassley, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and Baucus, ranking Democratic member, have introduced a bill, S. 1291, the "Emergency Protection for Iraqi Cultural Antiquities Act of 2003." This bill appears on the surface to be the Senate version of House of Representatives H.R. 2009, the "Iraq Cultural Heritage Protection Act." In fact, they are very different in what they cover. Since there is some confusion as to the relative merits of House of Representatives bill vs the Senate bill an explanation follows.

H.R. 2009, the House bill, currently in the House Ways and Means Committee, imposes import restrictions on undocumented archaeological and cultural materials that were illegally removed from Iraq since August, 1990, including manuscripts and religious materials. Archaeological materials are defined, among other things, as being over 100 years old, so the bill covers fairly recent materials as well as very ancient ones. The restrictions are imposed for an indefinite period of time. Passage of this bill would also fulfill the U.S. obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 1483, paragraph 7 (introduced by the United States) to impose import restrictions on all illegally removed Iraqi archaeological and cultural materials. In addition, H.R. 2009 makes some important changes to the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CCPIA), the law that implements the 1970 UNESCO Convention in the U.S.: It extends the time limit for import restrictions under bilateral agreements from five years to 10 years (renewable for an additional ten), and grants the President emergency powers to impose import restrictions on archaeological and ethnological material stemming from countries that are not party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention in crisis situations, giving needed flexibility to the current law. Afghanistan is one good example of a country that would benefit by these new provisions since it is not a State Party to the UNESCO Convention but looting on a massive scale is taking place there. Although Iraq is a State Party, its current lack of government precludes its requesting import restrictions under CCPIA any time soon but they could still be imposed under this bill.

S. 1291, on the other hand, does far less. The Senate bill imposes import restrictions on Iraqi material only for one year after relations between Iraq the U.S. are normalized OR until September 30, 2004, whichever comes first. After that time the Congress would have to keep renewing this bill annually to keep it in force. This means that anyone desiring to sell looted archaeological or cultural material from Iraq today would only have to sit on it for 14 months. The bill thus offers no disincentive to looting. The Senate bill also does nothing about the CCPIA and does nothing for countries like Afghanistan which are not States Parties to the UNESCO Convention.

© 2003 by the Archaeological Institute of America