Congress passes law to stop import of Syrian antiques

Publication April 26, 2016

In an effort to stem the funding of the Syrian civil war, the US Congress has passed a law that bans the US importation of looted Syrian cultural property.

Fearing that Syrian soldiers and their supporters are looting the Syrian war zone to sell antique art pieces to raise funds for their militia, Congress is attempting to block importation of these items into the US.

Congress passes law to stop import of Syrian antiques

The bill, introduced by the House of Representatives, is called The Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act and was unanimously passed by the Senate. It is now up to Obama to sign it into law, which the White House has indicated he will do.

The proposed law will, in effect, prohibit antique Syrian art from entering into the US, giving the President, Congress and others the power to review these imports.

The law came on the heels of an Antiquities Coalition taskforce report, #CultureUnderThreat. Urging for more severe means to stop archaeological looting by armed militants, members of the taskforce represent the Smithsonian, the University of Oxford, the University of Texas as well as other universities, museums and national preservation societies.

Under current law, exporters control antique art’s designation of origin and value

Current tracking standards for these imports are considered inadequate, with no standards for weight and quantity, leaving these details in the hands of the seller/shipper.

The seller/shipper designates and codes an item’s country of origin and value, under the Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS). These HTS codes establish the imported item’s duties and tariffs. If the  item is over 100 years old and imported for consumption—meaning, for collectors and dealers—the item is coded as “HTS 9706.” These HTS 9706 items are then not subjected to any duties.

Most of these imported antique objects are not inspected by US Customs.

Syrian antique art imports and the war on terror

Congress believes that these types of imports are on the rise and serve as a conduit for Syrian forces to raise militia money. This bill is an attempt to close the loop in the importation process and stop the US from inadvertently funding the Syrian military efforts.

According to cultural heritage lawyer Rick St. Hilaire, since 2009, the import of Syrian antiques into the US has risen from US$2.2 million to US$11 million in 2014.

The FBI has acknowledged reports of Americans who have been offered items that appear to be from Syria and Iraq. Furthermore, the US State Department is offering a US$5 million reward for information leading to the halt of these types of importations.

Our art law lawyers can assist

If you are concerned that you have been approached with a questionable import, our art lawyers are available to  guide you through the import/export process and aid you in establishing the provenance of your antiquities.

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