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  Background: An Introduction to International Cultural Property Protection in the U.S.

I. Introduction   
IIA. The Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act   
IIB. Provisions of the Cultural Property Implementation Act  
III. Role of the United States Information Agency (USIA)  
IV. Role of Other U.S. Government Agencies  

II. The Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act 

A. Background
1. The Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (Public Law 97-446, 19 U.S.C. 2601 et seq., as amended) implements the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property [823 U.N.T.S. 231 (1972)]  

The UNESCO Convention was adopted on November 14, 1970, 16th Session. Referred to as the 1970 UNESCO Convention, it provides a framework for cooperation among nations to reduce the incentive for pillage of archaeological and ethnographic material. The United States had an active role in drafting the 1970 UNESCO Convention.  

In the 1960s, the problem of the pillage of cultural property became a matter of great concern to the U.S. and other members of UNESCO. Countries at greatest risk were, and continue to be, those that are culturally rich but have limited resources to protect their national patrimony. Brazen pillage has caused them and the world an irretrievable loss of significant information about our universal past. Developed nations, such as the United States and Canada, are also at risk of losing cultural property to pillage.  

The long term purpose of the 1970 UNESCO Convention is to protect the knowledge that can be derived from archaeological material that is scientifically excavated and to preserve ethnographic material that remains in its societal context. The beneficiary of international cooperation within the framework of the 1970 UNESCO Convention is a greater understanding of our common heritage.  

2. Advice and Consent of the U.S. Senate.  

In 1972,  the United States Senate gave its unanimous advice and consent to accept the 1970 UNESCO Convention. Since the 1970 UNESCO Convention did not have a basis in U.S. law, Congress passed special legislation enabling the U.S. to implement it.  

3. U.S. Foreign Policy  

The following statement of policy reflects the cornerstone upon which U.S. participation in the 1970 UNESCO Convention rests:  

"The legislation is important to our foreign relations, including our international cultural relations. The expanding worldwide trade in objects of archaeological and ethnological interest has led to wholesale depredation...resulting in the mutilation of...archaeological complexes of ancient civilizations... In addition, art objects have been stolen in increasing quantities from museums, churches, and collections. ...the appearance in the United States of [illicitly exported or stolen] objects has often given rise to outcries and urgent requests for return by other countries. The United States considers that on grounds of principle, good relations, and concern for the preservation of the cultural heritage of mankind, it should render assistance in these situations."
4. Passage of Enabling Legislation.  

In 1982, after ten years of debate, Congress passed the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act. This legislation was signed by the president in January 1983. Although it withdrew as a member of UNESCO in 1985, the United States continues to uphold its legal obligation and moral commitment to implement the 1970 UNESCO Convention.  

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Revised: November 10, 1998
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