U.S. Department of State Announces New Cultural Heritage Initiatives

Fact Sheet
Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
September 22, 2016

At a reception held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on September 20 during the 71st Session of the United Nations General Assembly and attended by the Vice President of the United States Joe Biden, new State Department projects were announced designed to help preserve and protect endangered cultural heritage resources and to strengthen U.S. Government interagency coordination of these efforts. This announcement followed a panel discussion hosted by Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Evan Ryan and Special Advisor for Religious Minorities in the Near East and South and Central Asia Knox Thames entitled, “Today’s Struggle to Protect and Preserve the Cultural Heritage of Religious Minorities.”

Cultural heritage sites and objects can promote peace building, ethnic reconciliation and economic prosperity. We are working to end the theft, looting and trafficking of cultural heritage objects, and supporting the training of professionals to secure them during and after conflict.

Implementation of HR1493 and Creation of Interagency Cultural Heritage Coordination Body

In the wake of President Obama's signing into law of the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act (HR1493) on May 9, the Department of State, in close coordination with the Departments of Treasury and Homeland Security, has moved rapidly to implement emergency import restrictions that prevent Syrian archeological and ethnological material from illegally entering the United States. The State Department is also creating a new interagency coordination body to raise awareness and capacity building in cultural heritage preservation and protection efforts, and strengthen law enforcement efforts against trafficking in antiquities and terrorist financing. The new coordination body will hold its first meeting in October 2016.

Increased Funding for Cultural Antiquities Task Force (CATF)

The State Department has made available an additional $500,000 for projects and activities led by the Cultural Antiquities Task Force to combat the theft, looting and trafficking of historically and culturally significant objects originating in other countries. This funding will support additional training opportunities for U.S. and international customs agents, further analysis of web-based antiquities trafficking, and initiatives aimed at assisting countries which find themselves on major cultural property trafficking routes. The Task Force was established in 2004 with the objective of coordinating efforts across federal agencies, including law enforcement, to block trafficking in cultural property.

Training for the Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage (IICAH) in Erbil

In Fall 2016, the State Department will support the Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage’s efforts towards long-term protection of cultural heritage by funding the training of IICAH Master Trainers. The heritage professionals will be given professional development plans and focused instruction on pedagogical techniques, as well as classroom and laboratory management to utilize in concert with the State Department funded Preservation and Restoration of Archeological Ceramics course. The State Department has supported capacity building for IICAH since 2008.

Protecting the Cultural Heritage of Religious Minorities

In August 2016, the State Department, in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution, convened a workshop at the Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage to better understand the cultural preservation needs of religious and ethnic minorities in northern Iraq and to help them understand steps they can take to protect and preserve their religious and cultural patrimony. In addition, again in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution, the State Department funded the creation of a training manual for Kurdish and Iraqi security forces to educate them on protecting cultural and religious heritage sites in and around Mosul in preparation for the upcoming liberation. Lastly, in July, the State Department convened a major international meeting with over 30 different countries including the European Union, the United Nations and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation on ways to protect religious and ethnic minorities who have been victimized by Da’esh, with a special emphasis on protecting the religious and cultural heritage of ethnic and religious minorities.

For more information on any of these projects and press inquiries, please contact ECA-Press@state.gov.