Movable cultural property consists of cultural objects, ranging from ancient artifacts, to books and manuscripts, to religious articles, and modern art. Cultural objects may come from a variety of sources.
The 1954 Hague Convention defines cultural property to include “works of art; manuscripts, books and other objects of artistic, historical or archaeological interest; as well as scientific collections and important collections of books …”.
Cultural objects are found in repositories, such as museums, archives, and libraries. Archaeological objects may be looted directly from archaeological sites. Religious objects may be found in religious buildings (such as churches, mosques and synagogues) that are either defunct or still operational. Such objects may also be available for sale in local markets or given as gifts.
The acceptance as gifts, the purchase of such objects, or the looting of such objects directly from repositories, buildings or sites would all violate General Order 1A.
Cultural objects are generally subject to export control by Iraq and Afghanistan and would require an export license to be removed legally from the country. Such objects would generally be considered stolen property under U.S. law, even if possession is obtained from someone who appears to own the objects.
The entry of any such objects, if obtained without permission of the respective government, into the United States may violate U.S. domestic law as well as GO 1A. Legal measures specific to Iraq make it a violation of U.S. law to import any cultural objects removed from Iraq since August 1990 unless exported with the permission of Iraq. In all these cases, the U.S. government can seize the objects and the person who engages in these activities may be subject to criminal prosecution.
Cultural property also includes repositories of cultural objects, such as museums, libraries and archives, as well as refuges created specifically to shelter cultural property during hostilities. These repositories that house cultural objects may have no significance aside from the objects that they house or they themselves may be historic structures and considered to be immovable cultural property. An attack on, or exposing to danger a repository of cultural objects, regardless of whether the repository is itself an historic structure, should be treated in the same manner as immovable cultural property.
a. 1954 Hague Convention and Customary International Law
i. The Hague Convention sets out the obligation “to prohibit, prevent and, if necessary, put a stop to any form of theft, pillage or misappropriation of, and any acts of vandalism directed against, cultural property. . . .”
b. Military Law: General Order 1A, section 2(g), is the codification of this Hague Convention provision and customary international law into U.S. military law. Violations are punishable under the UCMJ.
c. Handling and Import of Stolen Property/Smuggling: Many general U.S. and state laws prohibit the entry into the United States, the receiving, possession, sale and transfer of stolen property, including cultural property removed from another country without permission of the owner. Archaeological objects looted directly from archaeological sites are generally the property of the nation and may not be removed without permission. If they are, they are considered to be stolen property under U.S. law. The most prominent relevant U.S. law is the National Stolen Property Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2314-15, which prohibits receipt, possession, transfer, sale and purchase of stolen property, worth more than $5000, that has crossed a state or international boundary. In addition, U.S. Customs laws, such as 18 U.S.C. §§ 542 and 545 and 19 U.S.C. § 1595a(c), prohibit importation of goods contrary to law and require truthful declarations as to value and country of origin upon entry of goods into the United States. The following recent cases demonstrate the difficulties encountered by those who were involved with illegally obtained antiquities from Egypt.
i. In June 2008, U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Edward George Johnson pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge for smuggling into the United States ancient clay vessels that had been stolen from a museum storeroom in Egypt. He both received stolen property and smuggled it into the United States by declaring them to be something different than what they were. He is now awaiting sentencing.
ii. In another case, a prominent New York antiquities dealer was convicted for conspiring to deal in antiquities stolen from Egypt. Egypt, like Iraq, owns antiquities that are still buried in the ground and so these antiquities were stolen from the Egyptian nation. Schultz paid a fine and served a sentence of 33 months in federal prison. U.S. v. Schultz, 333 F.3d 393 (2d Cir. 2003).
iii. A journalist obtained three cylinder seals looted from the Iraq Museum in Baghdad and attempted to bring them into the United States. In addition to handling stolen property, he made false statements to U.S. Customs authorities. He pled guilty to the charge of making false statements and was sentenced to six months of house arrest and two years of probation.
- Import restrictions specific to Iraq. The import of goods from Iraq into the United States was banned in August 1990 after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. This prohibition included cultural objects. In May 2003, when the general trade sanctions were lifted, the United States kept a ban on import of and trade in “Iraqi cultural property and other items of archaeological, historical, cultural, rare scientific, and religious importance illegally removed from the Iraq National Museum, the National Library, and other locations in Iraq” that had been illegally removed from Iraq any time after August 1990. These import restrictions are now in effect under the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act, 19 U.S.C. §§2601-13, and apply to a broad range of Iraqi cultural materials, including cultural objects dating from the Neolithic (ca. 6800 BCE) through to the modern periods and made of a wide range of materials, including ceramic, stone, metal, painting, textile, paper, parchment, and wood (see http://exchanges.state.gov/heritage/culprop/iqfact/pdfs/iq2008dlfrn.pdf).
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