This article is the third in a five-part series discussing the restitution, repatriation, and return of cultural objects. Each part addresses a different category of return. The first article in the series (available here) addressed the restitution of stolen cultural objects. The second article (available here, here, and here) discussed developments in the restitution of cultural objects taken during World War II. This article discusses the restitution of illicitly excavated and/or illicitly exported cultural objects, which is the subject of the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act, which is discussed in this article. The remaining articles, which will appear in coming weeks discuss (1) the repatriation of tribal and indigenous cultural objects, and (2) the return of cultural objects removed during colonial occupation.
U.S. efforts at protecting and preserving international cultural property, which currently is spread across no fewer than seven federal agencies, may soon be better coordinated. On June 1st, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act (H.R. 1493 or the Act), which would establish a new position within the Department of State – the U.S. Coordinator for International Cultural Property Protection (the Coordinator). The House bill sponsors are: Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-NY); Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ); Rep. Edward R. Royce (R-CA); Rep. William R. Keating (D-MA); Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ); Rep. Ted Poet (R-TX); Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA); Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-RI); and Rep. Juan Vargas (D-CA). Although no corresponding bill has yet been introduced in the Senate, a corresponding bill is anticipated. The Coordinator would work with federal agencies to coordinate and promote their activities – this would include diplomatic, military, and law enforcement activities. The Act would also create a Coordinating Committee on International Cultural Property Protection, which is to be chaired by the Coordinator, with the committee members comprised of representatives of the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Justice, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Smithsonian Institution, and such other entities as the chair may deem appropriate.