Casey Announces Senate Passage of His Bill to Restrict ISIS’ Ability to Profit from Sales of Antiquities

ISIS Ransacking Cities and Using Historical Artifacts to Finance Operations, Bills Would Help Degrade a Major Terrorist Source of Revenue / Bill Gives Administration Authority it Needs to Restrict Imports of Smuggled Antiquities from Syria

Casey Announces Senate Passage of His Bill to Restrict ISIS’ Ability to Profit from Sales of Antiquities

Washington, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) is proud to announce the United States Senate has passed H.R. 1493, his legislation to restrict ISIS’ ability to profit from the sale of antiquities. ISIS has ransacked cities and pillaged historical artifacts, as it did in Palmyra, and then sold those antiquities on the black market. Senator Casey traveled to the Middle East in February to take a closer look at the many ways that ISIS finances its operations, including extortion, smuggling, sales of oil, and donations. This bill serves as an important step in cutting off their funding. The Protect and Preserve Cultural Property Act will give the Administration the authority to impose import restrictions on Syrian antiquities.

"This bill not only makes it illegal to participate in the black market antiquities sales supporting ISIS but also sends a message to countries in the region regarding our collective responsibility to cut off the financial support of terrorism," said Sen. Casey 

ISIS Antiquities Smuggling

A series of reports have indicated that ISIS and criminal opportunists in Iraq and Syria have sought to profit from looting antiquities and selling them illegally on the black market. According to the State Department, on May 15, 2015, U.S. Special Operations Forces recovered a cache of hundreds of archaeological and historical objects and fragments during a raid in al-Amr (eastern Syria) to capture ISIS leader Abu Sayyaf.  As a recent report from the #CultureUnderThreat Task Force states, “[ISIS’s] cultural racketeering is industrial, methodical, and strictly controlled from the highest levels of the organization’s leadership… While [ISIS] was destroying artifacts on camera, as part of their propaganda and recruitment efforts, behind the scenes they were plundering and trafficking them for profit.”

It has been reported that ISIS collects a tax on antiquities excavated and smuggled out of its territory. Artifacts are sold to ISIS-approved dealers, who complete the transaction in U.S. dollars, and are then granted safe passage through ISIS territory. 

Some U.S. estimates have placed the total volume of illicit trade at more than $100 million a year. While government officials say that the majority of the trade is run by the Islamic State, reports suggest that many groups, including portions of the Syrian government, other combatants, criminal networks also smuggle or trade in antiquities.

Why this legislation is necessary?

The U.S. is a party to a 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. In 1982, Congress passed the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA), which enabled the U.S. government to implement the UNESCO convention.

The United States is a market for antiquities. One provision of CPIA gives the State Department authority to enter into memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with foreign countries to help protect their antiquities by restricting the import of certain items to the United States. Since the U.S. doesn’t have diplomatic relations with the Assad regime, a traditional MOU cannot be entered into. Section 8 of the legislation gives the Administration the authority to impose import restrictions on Syrian antiquities, waiving the provisions of current law that require a request from the country of origin.